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Biophys J. 2009 Aug 19;97(4):1013-21. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2009.05.054.

Extracellular matrix stiffness and architecture govern intracellular rheology in cancer.

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Department of Biomedical Engineering, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas, USA.


Little is known about the complex interplay between the extracellular mechanical environment and the mechanical properties that characterize the dynamic intracellular environment. To elucidate this relationship in cancer, we probe the intracellular environment using particle-tracking microrheology. In three-dimensional (3D) matrices, intracellular effective creep compliance of prostate cancer cells is shown to increase with increasing extracellular matrix (ECM) stiffness, whereas modulating ECM stiffness does not significantly affect the intracellular mechanical state when cells are attached to two-dimensional (2D) matrices. Switching from 2D to 3D matrices induces an order-of-magnitude shift in intracellular effective creep compliance and apparent elastic modulus. However, for a given matrix stiffness, partial blocking of beta1 integrins mitigates the shift in intracellular mechanical state that is invoked by switching from a 2D to 3D matrix architecture. This finding suggests that the increased cell-matrix engagement inherent to a 3D matrix architecture may contribute to differences observed in viscoelastic properties between cells attached to 2D matrices and cells embedded within 3D matrices. In total, our observations show that ECM stiffness and architecture can strongly influence the intracellular mechanical state of cancer cells.

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