Carcinoma cells that have undergone an epithelial-mesenchymal transition differentiate into endothelial cells and contribute to tumor growth. Academic Article uri icon


  • Hypoxia stimulates neoangiogenesis, promoting tumor outgrowth, and triggers the epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), which bestows cells with mesenchymal traits and multi-lineage differentiation potential. Here, we investigated whether EMT can confer endothelial attributes upon carcinoma cells, augmenting tumor growth and vascularization. Following orthotopic implantation of MCF-7 human epithelial breast cancer cells into mice, tumors of different sizes were immunostained for markers of hypoxia and EMT. Larger tumors were well-vascularized with CD31-positive cells of human origin. Hypoxic regions, demarcated by HIF-1 staining, exhibited focal areas of E-cadherin loss and elevated levels of vimentin and the EMT-mediator FOXC2. Implantation of MCF-7 cells, co-mixed with human mammary epithelial (HMLE) cells overexpressing the EMT-inducer Snail, markedly potentiated tumor growth and vascularization, compared with MCF-7 cells injected alone or co-mixed with HMLE-vector cells. Intra-tumoral vessels contained CD31-positive cells derived from either donor cell type. FOXC2 knockdown abrogated the potentiating effects of HMLE-Snail cells on MCF-7 tumor growth and vascularization, and compromised endothelial transdifferentiation of mesenchymal cells cultured in endothelial growth medium. Hence, cells that have undergone EMT can promote tumor growth and neovascularization either indirectly, by promoting endothelial transdifferentiation of carcinoma cells, or directly, by acquiring an endothelial phenotype, with FOXC2 playing key roles in these processes.

published proceedings

  • Oncotarget

altmetric score

  • 36.95

author list (cited authors)

  • Sphyris, N., King, C., Hoar, J., Werden, S. J., Vijay, G. V., Miura, N., Gaharwar, A., & Sarkar, T. R.

citation count

  • 1

complete list of authors

  • Sphyris, Nathalie||King, Cody||Hoar, Jonathan||Werden, Steven J||Vijay, Geraldine V||Miura, Naoyuki||Gaharwar, Akhilesh||Sarkar, Tapasree Roy

publication date

  • April 2021