Physical biology

Actomyosin tension as a determinant of metastatic cancer mechanical tropism.

PMID 25706686


Despite major advances in the characterization of molecular regulators of cancer growth and metastasis, patient survival rates have largely stagnated. Recent studies have shown that mechanical cues from the extracellular matrix can drive the transition to a malignant phenotype. Moreover, it is also known that the metastatic process, which results in over 90% of cancer-related deaths, is governed by intracellular mechanical forces. To better understand these processes, we identified metastatic tumor cells originating from different locations which undergo inverse responses to altered matrix elasticity: MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells that prefer rigid matrices and SKOV-3 ovarian cancer cells that prefer compliant matrices as characterized by parameters such as tumor cell proliferation, chemoresistance, and migration. Transcriptomic analysis revealed higher expression of genes associated with cytoskeletal tension and contractility in cells that prefer stiff environments, both when comparing MDA-MB-231 to SKOV-3 cells as well as when comparing bone-metastatic to lung-metastatic MDA-MB-231 subclones. Using small molecule inhibitors, we found that blocking the activity of these pathways mitigated rigidity-dependent behavior in both cell lines. Probing the physical forces exerted by cells on the underlying substrates revealed that though force magnitude may not directly correlate with functional outcomes, other parameters such as force polarization do correlate directly with cell motility. Finally, this biophysical analysis demonstrates that intrinsic levels of cell contractility determine the matrix rigidity for maximal cell function, possibly influencing tissue sites for metastatic cancer cell engraftment during dissemination. By increasing our understanding of the physical interactions of cancer cells with their microenvironment, these studies may help develop novel therapeutic strategies.