Microarray analysis of melanoma cell lines suggests that aggressive melanomas have a pluripotent, embryonic-like phenotype, implying the possibility of a stem cell origin for tumor components. Aggressive melanoma cells also form vascular structures and express endothelial-associated genes (including vascular endothelial-cadherin and EphA2) critical for vessel formation, indicating that the tumor cells have the plasticity to generate progeny, which express multiple cellular phenotypes with additional biological potential. This does not occur in poorly aggressive tumors, and, thus, expression of these genes is a predictor of biological behavior of the tumor. The aggressive tumor cells were able to participate in the neovascularization of ischemic tissue and produce factors that influence poorly aggressive tumor cells to assume a vascular phenotype. Understanding the molecular underpinnings of the plasticity of melanoma cells may lead to more effective diagnosis, treatment, and prevention measures for aggressive melanoma tumors.
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