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Numb prevents a complete EMT by modulating Notch signalling

By Federico Bocci, Mohit Kumar Jolly, Satyendra C Tripathi, Mitzi Aguilar, Samir M Hanash, Herbert Levine, José N. Onuchic

Posted 02 Sep 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/183871 (published DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2017.0512)

Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition (EMT) plays key roles during embryonic development, wound healing, and cancer metastasis. Cells in a partial EMT or hybrid epithelial/mesenchymal (E/M) phenotype exhibit collective cell migration, forming clusters of circulating tumour cells - the primary drivers of metastasis. Activation of cell-cell signalling pathways such as Notch fosters a partial or complete EMT, yet the mechanisms enabling cluster formation remain poorly understood. Using an integrated computational-experimental approach, we examine the role of Numb - an inhibitor of Notch intercellular signalling - in mediating EMT and clusters formation. We show via a mathematical model that Numb inhibits a full EMT by stabilizing a hybrid E/M phenotype. Consistent with this observation, knockdown of Numb in stable hybrid E/M cells H1975 results in a full EMT, thereby showing that Numb acts as a brake for a full EMT and thus behaves as a phenotypic stability factor by modulating Notch-driven EMT. By generalizing the mathematical model to a multi-cell level, Numb is predicted to alter the balance of hybrid E/M versus mesenchymal cells in clusters, potentially resulting in a higher tumour-initiation ability. Finally, Numb correlates with a worse survival in multiple independent lung and ovarian cancer datasets, hence confirming its relationship with increased cancer aggressiveness.

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