TGF-β-induced epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition proceeds through stepwise activation of multiple feedback loops

Jingyu Zhang, Xiao Jun Tian, Hang Zhang, Yue Teng, Ruoyan Li, Fan Bai, Subbiah Elankumaran, Jianhua Xing

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

328 Scopus citations


The process of epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is an essential type of cellular plasticity associated with a change from epithelial cells that function as a barrier consisting of a sheet of tightly connected cells to cells with properties of mesenchyme that are not attached to their neighbors and are highly motile. This phenotypic change occurs during development and also contributes to pathological processes, such as cancer progression. The molecular mechanisms controlling the switch between the fully epithelial and fully mesenchymal phenotypes and cells that have characteristics of both (partial EMT) are controversial, and multiple theoretical models have been proposed. To test these theoretical models, we systematically measured the changes in the abundance of proteins, mRNAs, and microRNAs (miRNAs) that represent the core regulators of EMT induced by transforming growth factor-β1 (TGF-β1) in the human breast epithelial cell line MCF10A at the population and single-cell levels. We provide experimental confirmation for a model of cascading switches in phenotypes associated with TGF-β1-induced EMT of MCF10A cells that involves two double-negative feedback loops: one between the transcription factor SNAIL1 and the miR-34 family and another between the transcription factor ZEB1 and the miR- 200 family. Furthermore, our data showed that whereas the transition from epithelial to partial EMT was reversible for MCF10A cells, the transition from partial EMT to mesenchymal was mostly irreversible at high concentrations of TGF-β1.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)ra91
JournalScience Signaling
Issue number345
StatePublished - Sep 30 2014
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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