Nature communications

Cell-like pressure sensors reveal increase of mechanical stress towards the core of multicellular spheroids under compression.

PMID 28128198


The surrounding microenvironment limits tumour expansion, imposing a compressive stress on the tumour, but little is known how pressure propagates inside the tumour. Here we present non-destructive cell-like microsensors to locally quantify mechanical stress distribution in three-dimensional tissue. Our sensors are polyacrylamide microbeads of well-defined elasticity, size and surface coating to enable internalization within the cellular environment. By isotropically compressing multicellular spheroids (MCS), which are spherical aggregates of cells mimicking a tumour, we show that the pressure is transmitted in a non-trivial manner inside the MCS, with a pressure rise towards the core. This observed pressure profile is explained by the anisotropic arrangement of cells and our results suggest that such anisotropy alone is sufficient to explain the pressure rise inside MCS composed of a single cell type. Furthermore, such pressure distribution suggests a direct link between increased mechanical stress and previously observed lack of proliferation within the spheroids core.