Publication: Cancer cell ability to mechanically adjust to extracellular matrix stiffness correlates with their invasive potential

Thomas R. Cox, Oct 2018

Cancer cell ability to mechanically adjust to extracellular matrix stiffness correlates with their invasive potential

Just published in Molecular Biology of the Cell is our recent paper looking at the effect of extracellular matrix stiffness on the intrinsic biomechanical properties of cancer cells. Led by Professors Janine Erler (Biotech Research & Innovation Centre) and Lene Oddershede (Niels Bohr Institute) both from the University of Copenhagen, the study combines optical tweezers–based microrheology and deformability cytometry with 3D biological models to dissect how cancer cells biomechanically interact with and respond to the stiffness of the microenvironment they are within.

Optical Tweezers Schematic for measuring intracellular viscosity

Optical Tweezers Schematic for measuring intracellular viscosity

The results show that invasive cancer cells adjust their intracellular and overall viscoelasticity to ECM density, and that cancer cell viscosity increases during invasion into 3D collagen matrices.

Abstract

Increased tissue stiffness is a classic characteristic of solid tumors. One of the major contributing factors is increased density of collagen fibers in the extracellular matrix (ECM). Here, we investigate how cancer cells biomechanically interact with and respond to the stiffness of the ECM. Probing the adaptability of cancer cells to altered ECM stiffness using optical tweezers–based microrheology and deformability cytometry, we find that only malignant cancer cells have the ability to adjust to collagen matrices of different densities. Employing microrheology on the biologically relevant spheroid invasion assay, we can furthermore demonstrate that, even within a cluster of cells of similar origin, there are differences in the intracellular biomechanical properties dependent on the cells’ invasive behavior. We reveal a consistent increase of viscosity in cancer cells leading the invasion into the collagen matrices in comparison with cancer cells following in the stalk or remaining in the center of the spheroid. We hypothesize that this differential viscoelasticity might facilitate spheroid tip invasion through a dense matrix. These findings highlight the importance of the biomechanical interplay between cells and their microenvironment for tumor progression.

Links

View the abstract on PubMed
View the full article on the MBoC website

Citation

Wullkopf L et al. Cancer cell ability to mechanically adjust to extracellular matrix stiffness correlates with their invasive potential
Molecular Biology of the Cell (2018) | doi: 10.1091/mbc.E18-05-0319

Key Words

Breast Cancer, Microrheology, Viscosity, Optical Tweezers, Extracellular Matrix (ECM)

Funding

We acknowledge financial support from Danish Research Council grant DFF-4002-00099, Danish National Research Foundation grant DNRF116, a Novo Nordisk Foundation Hallas Møller stipend, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) of Australia, and the Ragnar Söderberg Foundation, Sweden.