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Adhesion strength and contractility enable metastatic cells to become adurotactic.


Significant changes in cell stiffness, contractility, and adhesion, i.e., mechanotype, are observed during a variety of biological processes. Whether cell mechanics merely change as a side effect of or driver for biological processes is still unclear. Here, we sort genotypically similar metastatic cancer cells into strongly adherent (SA) versus weakly adherent (WA) phenotypes to study how contractility and adhesion differences alter the ability of cells to sense and respond to gradients in material stiffness. We observe that SA cells migrate up a stiffness gradient, or durotax, while WA cells largely ignore the gradient, i.e., adurotax. Biophysical modeling and experimental validation suggest that differences in cell migration and durotaxis between weakly and strongly adherent cells are driven by differences in intra-cellular actomyosin activity. These results provide a direct relationship between cell phenotype and durotaxis and suggest how, unlike other senescent cells, metastatic cancer cells navigate against stiffness gradients.

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