Potential Role of MSC/Cancer Cell Fusion and EMT for Breast Cancer Stem Cell Formation.
Solid tumors comprise of maturated cancer cells and self-renewing cancer stem-like cells (CSCs), which are associated with various other nontumorigenic cell populations in the tumor microenvironment. In addition to immune cells, endothelial cells, fibroblasts, and further cell types, mesenchymal stroma/stem-like cells (MSC) represent an important cell population recruited to tumor sites and predominantly interacting with the different cancer cells. Breast cancer models were among the first to reveal distinct properties of CSCs, however, the cellular process(es) through which these cells are generated, maintained, and expanded within neoplastic tissues remains incompletely understood. Here, we discuss several possible scenarios that are not mutually exclusive but may even act synergistically: fusion of cancer cells with MSC to yield hybrid cells and/or the induction of epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) in breast cancer cells by MSC, which can relay signals for retrodifferentiation and eventually, the generation of breast CSCs (BCSCs). In either case, the consequences may be promotion of self-renewal capacity, tumor cell plasticity and heterogeneity, an increase in the cancer cells' invasive and metastatic potential, and the acquisition of resistance mechanisms towards chemo- or radiotherapy. While specific signaling mechanisms involved in each of these properties remain to be elucidated, the present review article focusses on a potential involvement of cancer cell fusion and EMT in the development of breast cancer stem cells.