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A composite hydrogel platform for the dissection of tumor cell migration at tissue interfaces


Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the most prevalent primary brain cancer, is characterized by diffuse infiltration of tumor cells into brain tissue, which severely complicates surgical resection and contributes to tumor recurrence. The most rapid mode of tissue infiltration occurs along blood vessels or white matter tracts, which represent topological interfaces thought to serve as "tracks" that speed cell migration. Despite this observation, the field lacks experimental paradigms that capture key features of these tissue interfaces and allow reductionist dissection of mechanisms of this interfacial motility. To address this need, we developed a culture system in which tumor cells are sandwiched between a fibronectin-coated ventral surface representing vascular basement membrane and a dorsal hyaluronic acid (HA) surface representing brain parenchyma. We find that inclusion of the dorsal HA surface induces formation of adhesive complexes and significantly slows cell migration relative to a free fibronectin-coated surface. This retardation is amplified by inclusion of integrin binding peptides in the dorsal layer and expression of CD44, suggesting that the dorsal surface slows migration through biochemically specific mechanisms rather than simple steric hindrance. Moreover, both the reduction in migration speed and assembly of dorsal adhesions depend on myosin activation and the stiffness of the ventral layer, implying that mechanochemical feedback directed by the ventral layer can influence adhesive signaling at the dorsal surface.

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