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  1. Abstract

    Mathematical modeling of the emergent dynamics of gene regulatory networks (GRN) faces a double challenge of (a) dependence of model dynamics on parameters, and (b) lack of reliable experimentally determined parameters. In this paper we compare two complementary approaches for describing GRN dynamics across unknown parameters: (1) parameter sampling and resulting ensemble statistics used by RACIPE (RAndom CIrcuit PErturbation), and (2) use of rigorous analysis of combinatorial approximation of the ODE models by DSGRN (Dynamic Signatures Generated by Regulatory Networks). We find a very good agreement between RACIPE simulation and DSGRN predictions for four different 2- and 3-node networks typically observed in cellular decision making. This observation is remarkable since the DSGRN approach assumes that the Hill coefficients of the models are very high while RACIPE assumes the values in the range 1-6. Thus DSGRN parameter domains, explicitly defined by inequalities between systems parameters, are highly predictive of ODE model dynamics within a biologically reasonable range of parameters.

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  2. Epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) and its reverse mesenchymal–epithelial transition (MET) are critical during embryonic development, wound healing and cancer metastasis. While phenotypic changes during short-term EMT induction are reversible, long-term EMT induction has been often associated with irreversibility. Here, we show that phenotypic changes seen in MCF10A cells upon long-term EMT induction by TGF β need not be irreversible, but have relatively longer time scales of reversibility than those seen in short-term induction. Next, using a phenomenological mathematical model to account for the chromatin-mediated epigenetic silencing of the miR-200 family by ZEB family, we highlight how the epigenetic memory gained during long-term EMT induction can slow the recovery to the epithelial state post-TGF β withdrawal. Our results suggest that epigenetic modifiers can govern the extent and time scale of EMT reversibility and advise caution against labelling phenotypic changes seen in long-term EMT induction as ‘irreversible’. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 1, 2024
  3. The epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a cellular process critical for wound healing, cancer metastasis and embryonic development. Recent efforts have identified the role of hybrid epithelial/mesenchymal states, having both epithelial and mesehncymal traits, in enabling cancer metastasis and resistance to various therapies. Also, previous work has suggested that NRF2 can act as phenotypic stability factor to help stablize such hybrid states. Here, we incorporate a phenomenological epigenetic feedback effect into our previous computational model for EMT signaling. We show that this type of feedback can stabilize the hybrid state as compared to the fully mesenchymal phenotype if NRF2 can influence SNAIL at an epigenetic level, as this link makes transitions out of hybrid state more difficult. However, epigenetic regulation on other NRF2-related links do not significantly change the EMT dynamics. Finally, we considered possible cell division effects in our epigenetic regulation model, and our results indicate that the degree of epigenetic inheritance does not appear to be a critical factor for the hybrid E/M state stabilizing behavior of NRF2. 
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  4. Hybrid epithelial/mesenchymal cells (E/M) are key players in aggressive cancer metastasis. It remains a challenge to understand how these cell states, which are mostly non-existent in healthy tissue, become stable phenotypes participating in collective cancer migration. The transcription factor Nrf2, which is associated with tumor progression and resistance to therapy, appears to be central to this process. Here, using a combination of immunocytochemistry, single cell biosensors, and computational modeling, we show that Nrf2 functions as a phenotypic stability factor for hybrid E/M cells by inhibiting a complete epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) during collective cancer migration. We also demonstrate that Nrf2 and EMT signaling are spatially coordinated near the leading edge. In particular, computational analysis of an Nrf2-EMT-Notch network and experimental modulation of Nrf2 by pharmacological treatment or CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing reveal that Nrf2 stabilizes a hybrid E/M phenotype which is maximally observed in the interior region immediately behind the leading edge. We further demonstrate that the Nrf2-EMT-Notch network enhances Dll4 and Jagged1 expression at the leading edge, which correlates with the formation of leader cells and protruding tips. Altogether, our results provide direct evidence that Nrf2 acts as a phenotypic stability factor in restricting complete EMT and plays an important role in coordinating collective cancer migration. 
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  5. Cancer metastasis is the leading cause of cancer-related mortality and the process of the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is crucial for cancer metastasis. Both partial and complete EMT have been reported to influence the metabolic plasticity of cancer cells in terms of switching among the oxidative phosphorylation, fatty acid oxidation and glycolysis pathways. However, a comprehensive analysis of these major metabolic pathways and their associations with EMT across different cancers is lacking. Here, we analyse more than 180 cancer cell datasets and show the diverse associations of these metabolic pathways with the EMT status of cancer cells. Our bulk data analysis shows that EMT generally positively correlates with glycolysis but negatively with oxidative phosphorylation and fatty acid metabolism. These correlations are also consistent at the level of their molecular master regulators, namely AMPK and HIF1α. Yet, these associations are shown to not be universal. The analysis of single-cell data for EMT induction shows dynamic changes along the different axes of metabolic pathways, consistent with general trends seen in bulk samples. Further, assessing the association of EMT and metabolic activity with patient survival shows that a higher extent of EMT and glycolysis predicts a worse prognosis in many cancers. Together, our results reveal the underlying patterns of metabolic plasticity and heterogeneity as cancer cells traverse through the epithelial–hybrid–mesenchymal spectrum of states. 
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  6. Epithelial-mesenchymal plasticity (EMP) underlies embryonic development, wound healing, and cancer metastasis and fibrosis. Cancer cells exhibiting EMP often have more aggressive behavior, characterized by drug resistance, and tumor-initiating and immuno-evasive traits. Thus, the EMP status of cancer cells can be a critical indicator of patient prognosis. Here, we compare three distinct transcriptomic-based metrics—each derived using a different gene list and algorithm—that quantify the EMP spectrum. Our results for over 80 cancer-related RNA-seq datasets reveal a high degree of concordance among these metrics in quantifying the extent of EMP. Moreover, each metric, despite being trained on cancer expression profiles, recapitulates the expected changes in EMP scores for non-cancer contexts such as lung fibrosis and cellular reprogramming into induced pluripotent stem cells. Thus, we offer a scoring platform to quantify the extent of EMP in vitro and in vivo for diverse biological applications including cancer. 
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  7. Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 1, 2024
  8. null (Ed.)
    The epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) plays a critical role in cancer progression, being responsible in many cases for the onset of the metastatic cascade and being integral in the ability of cells to resist drug treatment. Most studies of EMT focus on its induction via chemical signals such as TGF-β or Notch ligands, but it has become increasingly clear that biomechanical features of the microenvironment such as extracellular matrix (ECM) stiffness can be equally important. Here, we introduce a coupled feedback loop connecting stiffness to the EMT transcription factor ZEB1, which acts via increasing the secretion of LOXL2 that leads to increased cross-linking of collagen fibers in the ECM. This increased cross-linking can effectively increase ECM stiffness and increase ZEB1 levels, thus setting a positive feedback loop between ZEB1 and ECM stiffness. To investigate the impact of this non-cell-autonomous effect, we introduce a computational approach capable of connecting LOXL2 concentration to increased stiffness and thereby to higher ZEB1 levels. Our results indicate that this positive feedback loop, once activated, can effectively lock the cells in a mesenchymal state. The spatial-temporal heterogeneity of the LOXL2 concentration and thus the mechanical stiffness also has direct implications for migrating cells that attempt to escape the primary tumor. 
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