A possible role for epigenetic feedback regulation in the dynamics of the Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition (EMT)
The epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) often plays a critical role in cancer metastasis and chemoresistance, and decoding its dynamics is crucial to design effective therapeutics. EMT is regulated at multiple levels transcriptional, translational, protein stability, and epigenetics; the mechanisms by which epigenetic regulation can alter the dynamics of EMT remain elusive. Here, to identify the possible effects of epigenetic regulation in EMT, we incorporate a feedback term in our previously proposed model of EMT regulation of the miR 200/ZEB/miR 34/SNAIL circuit. This epigenetic feedback that stabilizes long-term transcriptional activity can alter the relative stability and distribution of states in a given cell population, particularly when incorporated in the inhibitory effect on miR 200 from ZEB. This feedback can stabilize the mesenchymal state, thus making transitions out of that state difficult. Conversely, epigenetic regulation of the self activation of ZEB has only minor effects. Our model predicts that this effect could be seen in experiments, when epithelial cells are treated with an external EMT inducing signal for a sufficiently long period of time and then allowed to recover. Our preliminary experimental data indeed shows that a prolonged TGF beta; exposure gives rise to increasing difficult reversion back to the epithelial state. Thus, this integrated theoretical experimental approach yields insights into how an epigenetic feedback may alter the dynamics of EMT.
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