A plausible accelerating function of intermediate states in cancer metastasis.
AbstractEpithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a fundamental cellular process and plays an essential role in development, tissue regeneration, and cancer metastasis. Interestingly, EMT is not a binary process but instead proceeds with multiple partial intermediate states. However, the functions of these intermediate states are not fully understood. Here, we focus on a general question about how the number of partial EMT states affects cell transformation. First, by fitting a hidden Markov model of EMT with experimental data, we propose a statistical mechanism for EMT in which many unobservable microstates may exist within one of the observable macrostates. Furthermore, we find that increasing the number of intermediate states can accelerate the EMT process and that adding parallel paths or transition layers may accelerate the process even further. Last, a stabilized intermediate state traps cells in one partial EMT state. This work advances our understanding of the dynamics and functions of EMT plasticity during cancer metastasis.