[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Epithelial mesenchymal transition (EMT) and cancer stem cells (CSC) have been associated with resistance to chemotherapy. Eighty percent of ovarian cancer patients initially respond to platinum-based combination therapy but most return with recurrence and ultimate demise. To better understand such chemoresistance we have assessed the potential role of EMT in tumor cells collected from advanced-stage ovarian cancer patients and the ovarian cancer cell line OVCA 433 in response to cisplatin in vitro. We demonstrate that cisplatin-induced transition from epithelial to mesenchymal morphology in residual cancer cells correlated with reduced E-cadherin, and increased N-cadherin and vimentin expression. The mRNA expression of Snail, Slug, Twist, and MMP-2 were significantly enhanced in response to cisplatin and correlated with increased migration. This coincided with increased cell surface expression of CSC-like markers such as CD44, α2 integrin subunit, CD117, CD133, EpCAM, and the expression of stem cell factors Nanog and Oct-4. EMT and CSC-like changes in response to cisplatin correlated with enhanced activation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK)1/2. The selective MEK inhibitor U0126 inhibited ERK2 activation and partially suppressed cisplatin-induced EMT and CSC markers. In vivo xenotransplantation of cisplatin-treated OVCA 433 cells in zebrafish embryos demonstrated significantly enhanced migration of cells compared to control untreated cells. U0126 inhibited cisplatin-induced migration of cells in vivo, suggesting that ERK2 signaling is critical to cisplatin-induced EMT and CSC phenotypes, and that targeting ERK2 in the presence of cisplatin may reduce the burden of residual tumor, the ultimate cause of recurrence in ovarian cancer patients.