Molecular biology of the cell

Soft matrix is a natural stimulator for cellular invasiveness.

PMID 24336521


Directional mesenchymal cell invasion in vivo is understood to be a stimulated event and to be regulated by cytokines, chemokines, and types of extracellular matrix (ECM). Instead, by focusing on the cellular response to ECM stiffness, we found that soft ECM (low stiffness) itself is sufficient to prevent stable cell-to-cell adherens junction formation, up-regulate matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) secretion, promote MMP activity, and induce invadosome-like protrusion (ILP) formation. Consistently, similar ILP formation was also detected in a three-dimensional directional invasion assay in soft matrix. Primary human fibroblasts spontaneously form ILPs in a very narrow range of ECM stiffness (0.1-0.4 kPa), and such ILP formation is Src family kinase dependent. In contrast, spontaneous ILP formation in malignant cancer cells and fibrosarcoma cells occurs across a much wider range of ECM stiffness, and these tumor cell ILPs are also more prominent at lower stiffness. These findings suggest that ECM softness is a natural stimulator for cellular invasiveness.