EMT (epithelial–mesenchymal transition), a major mechanism of cancer metastasis, is a process that generates cells with stem-like properties. These stem-like cells in tumours are described as cancer stem cells. The link between EMT and cancer stemness is well documented without detailed mechanistic proof. Bmi1 belongs to the PRC1 (polycomb repressive complex 1) maintaining self-renewal and stemness together with EZH2 (enhancer of zeste homologue 2), which is a component of PRC2. Bmi1 is frequently overexpressed in different types of human cancers. Recent demonstration of an EMT regulator, Twist1, directly regulating the expression of Bmi1 provides a mechanistic explanation of the relationship between EMT and cancer stemness. The functional interdependence between Twist1 and Bmi1 provides a fresh insight into the common mechanism mediating EMT and cancer stemness. This observation is also confirmed using head and neck cancer patient samples. These results provide a critical mechanism of Twist1-induced EMT and cancer stemness in cancer cells through chromatin remodelling. The role of hypoxia and microRNAs in regulating EMT and cancer stemness is also discussed.

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