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The Role of Cellular Plasticity in Cancer Development

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It has traditionally been accepted that, in the process of cellular differentiation, developmental options are progressively restricted until commitment to a specific fate is established and then only terminal differentiation along this lineage is possible. Although this is usually the case in normal physiological development, the latest experimental evidences indicate that the differentiated state of mature cells is not always as stable and durable as it was thought to be. In fact, recently, a hidden plasticity has been revealed in differentiated cells which allows them to deviate to other cell types that might be, functionally, very far away in other developmental pathways. This plasticity has biological significance since it is necessary for normal development to occur, but it also makes possible the emergence of aberrant lineages when interferences with the normal transcriptional and epigenetic mechanisms in charge of maintaining cellular identity do appear. Cancer is one of the possible outcomes of this aberrant reprogramming. The plasticity of the initial cell suffering the first oncogenic alteration plays an essential role in cancer development, since only if this cell possesses enough plasticity a tumoral reprogramming will be possible and a full-blown tumor will develop. Also, plasticity makes it possible for differentiated cells to acquire cancer stem cell properties in the presence of the appropriate oncogenic insults. In this review we discuss the role of cellular plasticity in the normal development of adult tissues and how cellular susceptibility to reprogramming plays an essential part in cancer development.
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Keywords: Outcome; Plasticity; cancer; cancer stem cells; development; differentiation; stem cells

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Departamento de Fisiologia y Farmacologia, Universidad de Salamanca, Edificio Departamental, Campus Unamuno s/n, 37007-SALAMANCA, Spain.

Publication date: 2009-10-01

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  • Current Medicinal Chemistry covers all the latest and outstanding developments in medicinal chemistry and rational drug design. Each issue contains a series of timely in-depth reviews written by leaders in the field covering a range of the current topics in medicinal chemistry. Current Medicinal Chemistry is an essential journal for every medicinal chemist who wishes to be kept informed and up-to-date with the latest and most important developments.
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