Developmental morphogenesis relies on cell transitions between epithelial and mesenchymal states. Colorectal cancer (CRC) progression can also be described as ‘morphogenesis’ as it involves epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), whereby tumour cells become more invasive and metastatic. Subsequently, the disseminated tumour cells must undergo a reverse transition (MET), as the pathology of most primary tumours is re-capitulated by their established metastases. Disseminated tumour cells can remain ‘dormant’ for many years. Consequently, tumour initiation at the secondary site is the rate-limiting step in metastasis. Metastasis is governed by cell intrinsic and extrinsic (microenvironment) factors, thus much of what we know about metastasis is drawn from in vivo model systems. However, the molecular mechanisms controlling release from ‘dormancy’ are still largely unknown due to the complexity this presents for the in vivo situation. An in vitro morphogenesis culture system would present a great advantage. To this end, we have established a unique model of CRC morphogenesis, using a variant of the human cell line LIM1863 (LIM1863-Mph). In this model system LIM1863-Mph cells show plasticity between epithelial and mesenchymal states. The transitions are reversible and bear the phenotypic hallmarks of CRC morphogenesis. Importantly, we have demonstrated a pivotal role for FZD7 in these phenotype transitions, implicating Wnt signalling in orchestrating CRC morphogenesis.

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