Cellular plasticity lies at the core of cancer progression, metastasis, and resistance to treatment. Stemness and epithelial-mesenchymal plasticity in cancer are concepts that represent a cancer cell’s ability to coopt and adapt normal developmental programs to promote survival and expansion. The cancer stem cell model states that a small subset of cancer cells with stem cell-like properties are responsible for driving tumorigenesis and metastasis while remaining especially resistant to common chemotherapeutic drugs. Epithelial-mesenchymal plasticity describes a cancer cell’s ability to transition between epithelial and mesenchymal phenotypes which drives invasion and metastasis. Recent research supports the existence of stable epithelial/mesenchymal hybrid phenotypes which represent highly plastic states with cancer stem cell characteristics. The cell adhesion molecule CD44 is a widely accepted marker for cancer stem cells, and it lies at a functional intersection between signaling networks regulating both stemness and epithelial-mesenchymal plasticity. CD44 expression is complex, with alternative splicing producing many isoforms. Interestingly, not only does the pattern of isoform expression change during transitions between epithelial and mesenchymal phenotypes in cancer, but these isoforms have distinct effects on cell behavior including the promotion of metastasis and stemness. The role of CD44 both downstream and upstream of signaling pathways regulating epithelial-mesenchymal plasticity and stemness make this protein a valuable target for further research and therapeutic intervention.
- CD44 isoforms
- Cancer stem cells
- Epithelial-mesenchymal plasticity
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research