Microenvironmental signals and biochemical information processing: Cooperative determinants of intratumoral plasticity and heterogeneity

Alex Davies, John G. Albeck

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Intra-tumor cellular heterogeneity is a major challenge in cancer therapy. Tumors are composed of multiple phenotypic subpopulations that vary in their ability to initiate metastatic tumors and in their sensitivity to chemotherapy. In many cases, cells can transition between these subpopulations, not by genetic mutation, but instead through reversible changes in signal transduction or gene expression programs. This plasticity begins at the level of the microenvironment where local autocrine and paracrine signals, exosomes, tumor-stroma interactions, and extracellular matrix (ECM) composition create a signaling landscape that varies over space and time. The integration of this complex array of signals engages signaling pathways that control gene expression. The resulting modulation of gene expression programs causes individual cells to sample a wide array of phenotypic states that support tumor growth, dissemination, and therapeutic resistance. In this review, we discuss how information flows dynamically within the microenvironmental landscape to inform cell state decisions and to create intra-tumoral heterogeneity. We address the role of plasticity in the acquisition of transient and prolonged drug resistant states and discuss how targeted pharmacological modification of the signaling landscape may be able to constrain phenotypic plasticity, leading to improved treatment responses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number44
JournalFrontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology
Issue numberAPR
StatePublished - Apr 20 2018


  • Epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition
  • Kinase
  • Neoplastic
  • Network state transition
  • Receptor
  • Single-cell
  • Stem cell

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology


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