Tuning Surface Functionalization Collagen Gel Thickness to Regulate Cancer Cell Migration

Bartlett, Michael
Unnikandam Veettil, Shalini
Van Bruggen, Shawn
Hwang, Doh-Gyu
Schneider, Ian
Bartlett, Michael
Schneider, Ian
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Materials Science and EngineeringGenetics, Development and Cell BiologyChemical and Biological Engineering

Cancer cells have a tremendous ability to sense and respond to extracellular matrix (ECM) stiffness, modulating invasion. The magnitude of the sensed stiffness can either promote or inhibit the migration of cancer cells out of the primary tumor into surrounding tissue. Work has been done on examining the role of stiffness in tuning cancer cell migration by controlling elastic modulus in the bulk. However, a powerful and complementary approach for controlling stiffness is to leverage interactions between stiff-soft (e.g. glass-hydrogel) interfaces. Unfortunately, most work in this area probes cells in 2D environments. Of the reports that probe 3D environments, none have assessed the role of mechanical linkage to the interface as a potential handle in controlling local stiffness and cell behavior. In this paper, we examine the migration of cancer cells embedded in a collagen fiber network between two flat plates. We examine the role of both surface attachment of the collagen network to the stiff interface as well as thickness (50-540 μm) of the collagen gel in driving collagen organization, cell morphology and cell migration. We find that surface attachment and thickness do not operate overlapping mechanisms, because they elicit different cell responses. While thickness and surface chemistry appear to control morphology, only thickness regulates collagen organization and cell migration speed. This suggests that surface attachment and thickness of the collagen gel control cell behavior through both collagen structure and local stiffness in confined fiber-forming networks.


This is a manuscript of an article published as Unnikandam Veettil, Shalini R., Shawn M. Van Bruggen, Doh-Gyu Hwang, Michael D. Bartlett, and Ian C. Schneider. "Tuning Surface Functionalization Collagen Gel Thickness to Regulate Cancer Cell Migration." Colloids and Surfaces B: Biointerfaces 179 (2019): 37-47. DOI: 10.1016/j.colsurfb.2019.03.031. Posted with permission.