The role of polarisation of circulating tumour cells in cancer metastasis

Mathias Heikenwalder, Anna Lorentzen

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    Metastasis is the spread of cancer cells from a primary tumour to a distant site of the body. Metastasising tumour cells have to survive and readjust to different environments, such as heterogeneous solid tissues and liquid phase in lymph- or blood circulation, which they achieve through a high degree of plasticity that renders them adaptable to varying conditions. One defining characteristic of the metastatic process is the transition of tumour cells between different polarised phenotypes, ranging from differentiated epithelial polarity to migratory front-rear polarity. Here, we review the polarisation types adopted by tumour cells during the metastatic process and describe the recently discovered single-cell polarity in liquid phase observed in circulating tumour cells. We propose that single-cell polarity constitutes a mode of polarisation of the cell cortex that is uncoupled from the intracellular polarisation machinery, which distinguishes single-cell polarity from other types of polarity identified so far. We discuss how single-cell polarity can contribute to tumour metastasis and the therapeutic potential of this new discovery.

    Original languageEnglish
    JournalCellular and Molecular Life Sciences
    Pages (from-to)3765-3781
    Number of pages17
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019


    • Actin
    • Adhesion
    • Attachment
    • CTC
    • Cancer
    • Single-cell polarity


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