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Intermediate cell states in epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition


The transition of epithelial cells into a mesenchymal state (epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition or EMT) is a highly dynamic process implicated in various biological processes. During EMT, cells do not necessarily exist in 'pure' epithelial or mesenchymal states. There are cells with mixed (or hybrid) features of the two, which are termed as the intermediate cell states (ICSs). While the exact functions of ICS remain elusive, together with EMT it appears to play important roles in embryogenesis, tissue development, and pathological processes such as cancer metastasis. Recent single cell experiments and advanced mathematical modeling have improved our capability in identifying ICS and provided a better understanding of ICS in development and disease. Here, we review the recent findings related to the ICS in/or EMT and highlight the challenges in the identification and functional characterization of ICS.

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