"NFATc acts as a non-canonical phenotypic stability factor for a hybrid epithelial/mesenchymal phenotype"
More than 90% of cancer-related deaths can be attributed to metastasis. Cells adapt to their changing environmental conditions and avoid therapy and immune response during metastasis by employing the phenotypic plasticity. Reversible transitions between epithelial and mesenchymal phenotypes - Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition (EMT) and its reverse Mesenchymal-Epithelial Transition (MET) - form a key axis of phenotypic plasticity during metastasis and therapy resistance. Recent studies have shown that the cells undergoing EMT/MET can attain one or more hybrid epithelial/mesenchymal (E/M) phenotypes, the process of which is termed as partial EMT/MET. Cells in hybrid E/M phenotype(s) can be more aggressive than those in either epithelial or mesenchymal state. Thus, it is crucial to identify the factors and regulatory networks enabling such hybrid E/M phenotypes. Here, employing an integrated computational-experimental approach, we show that the transcription factor NFATc can inhibit the process of complete EMT, thus stabilizing the hybrid E/M phenotype. It increases the range of parameters enabling the existence of a hybrid E/M phenotype, thus behaving as a phenotypic stability factor (PSF). However, unlike previously identified PSFs, it does not increase the mean residence time of the cells in hybrid E/M phenotypes, as shown by stochastic simulations; rather it enables the co-existence of epithelial, mesenchymal and hybrid E/M phenotypes and transitions among them. Clinical data suggests the effect of NFATc on patient survival in a tissue-specific or context-dependent manner. Together, our results indicate that NFATc behaves as a non-canonical phenotypic stability factor for a hybrid E/M phenotype.