A proteomics outlook towards the elucidation of epithelial–mesenchymal transition molecular events
The main cause of death in cancer is the spread, or metastasis, of cancer cells to distant organs with consequent tumor formation. Additionally, metastasis is a process that demands special attention, as the cellular transformations make cancer at this stage very difficult or occasionally even impossible to be cured. The main process that converts epithelial tumor cells to mesenchymal-like metastatic cells is the Epithelial to Mesenchymal Transition (EMT). This process allows stationary and polarized epithelial cells, which are connected laterally to several types of junctions as well as the basement membrane, to undergo multiple biochemical changes that enable disruption of cell–cell adherence and apical–basal polarity. Moreover, the cells undergo important reprogramming to remodel the cytoskeleton and acquire mesenchymal characteristics such as enhanced migratory capacity, invasiveness, elevated resistance to apoptosis and a large increase in the production of ECM components. As expected, the alterations of the protein complement are extensive and complex, and thus exploring this by proteomic approaches is of particular interest. Here we review the overall findings of proteome modifications during EMT, mainly focusing on molecular signatures observed in multiple proteomic studies as well as coordinated pathways, cellular processes and their clinical relevance for altered proteins. As a result, an interesting set of proteins is highlighted as potential targets to be further investigated in the context of EMT, metastasis and cancer progression.