Published online Jun 28, 2008. doi: 10.3748/wjg.14.3792
Revised: April 25, 2008
Accepted: May 2, 2008
Published online: June 28, 2008
Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a highly conserved process that has been well characterised in embryogenesis. Studies have shown that the aberrant activation of EMT in adult epithelia can promote tumour metastasis by repressing cell adhesion molecules, including epithelial (E)-cadherin. Reduced intracellular adhesion may allow tumour cells to disseminate and spread throughout the body. A number of transcription proteins of the Snail superfamily have been implicated in EMT. These proteins have been shown to be over-expressed in advanced gastrointestinal (GI) tumours including oesophageal adenocarcinomas, colorectal carcinomas, gastric and pancreatic cancers, with a concomitant reduction in the expression of E-cadherin. Regulators of EMT may provide novel clinical targets to detect GI cancers early, so that cancers previously associated with a poor prognosis such as pancreatic cancer can be diagnosed before they become inoperable. Furthermore, pharmacological therapies designed to inhibit these proteins will aim to prevent local and distant tumour invasion.