Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley Previously Published Works bannerUC Berkeley

Direct evidence that tumor cells soften when navigating confined spaces


The mechanical properties of cells strongly regulate many physiological and pathological processes. For example, in cancer, invasive and metastatic tumor cells have often been reported to be softer than nontumor cells, raising speculation that cancer cells might adaptively soften to facilitate migration through narrow tissue spaces. Despite growing interest in targeting cell softening to impede invasion and metastasis, it remains to be directly demonstrated that tumor cells soften as they migrate through confined spaces. Here, we address this open question by combining topographically patterned substrates with atomic force microscopy (AFM). Using a polydimethylsiloxane open-roof microdevice featuring tapered, fibronectin-coated channels, we followed the migration of U2OS cells through various stages of confinement while simultaneously performing AFM indentation. As cells progress from unconfined migration to fully confined migration, cells soften and exclude Yes-associated protein from the nucleus. Superresolution imaging reveals that confinement induces remodeling of actomyosin stress fiber architecture. Companion studies with flat one-dimensional microlines indicate that the changes in cytoarchitecture and mechanics are intrinsically driven by topographical confinement rather than changes in cellular aspect ratio. Our studies represent among the most direct evidence to date that tumor cells soften during confined migration and support cell softening as a mechanoadaptive mechanism during invasion.

Many UC-authored scholarly publications are freely available on this site because of the UC's open access policies. Let us know how this access is important for you.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View