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Recapitulating the human tumor microenvironment: Colon tumor-derived extracellular matrix promotes angiogenesis and tumor cell growth.


Extracellular matrix (ECM) is an essential and dynamic component of all tissues and directly affects cellular behavior by providing both mechanical and biochemical signaling cues. Changes in ECM can alter tissue homeostasis, potentially leading to promotion of cellular transformation and the generation of tumors. Therefore, understanding ECM compositional changes during cancer progression is vital to the development of targeted treatments. Previous efforts to reproduce the native 3D cellular microenvironment have utilized protein gels and scaffolds that incompletely recapitulate the complexity of native tissues. Here, we address this problem by extracting and comparing ECM from normal human colon and colon tumor that had metastasized to liver. We found differences in protein composition and stiffness, and observed significant differences in vascular network formation and tumor growth in each of the reconstituted matrices, both in vitro and in vivo. We studied free/bound ratios of NADH in the tumor and endothelial cells using Fluorescence Lifetime Imaging Microscopy as a surrogate for the metabolic state of the cells. We observed that cells seeded in tumor ECM had higher relative levels of free NADH, consistent with a higher glycolytic rate, than those seeded in normal ECM. These results demonstrate that the ECM plays an important role in the growth of cancer cells and their associated vasculature.

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