Nodal, an embryonic morphogen belonging to the TGF-β superfamily, is an important regulator of embryonic stem cell fate. We have recently demonstrated that Nodal is expressed significantly in aggressive melanoma. Surprisingly, expression of the Nodal coreceptor, Cripto-1, was detected in only a small fraction of the melanoma tumor cell population, indicating a primary role for Cripto-1-independent signaling of Nodal in melanoma. In this review, we discuss how regulatory factors present in an embryonic environment, such as Lefty, can downregulate Nodal expression and inhibit tumorigenicity and plasticity of melanoma cells. Our translational studies show that antibodies against Nodal are capable of repressing melanoma vasculogenic mimicry and of inducing apoptosis in melanoma tumors in an in vivo lung-colonization assay. Our previous work and ongoing studies suggest that Nodal may represent a novel diagnostic marker and therapeutic target in melanoma.
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