Multi-step pericellular proteolysis controls the transition from individual to collective cancer cell invasion

Nat Cell Biol. 2007 Aug;9(8):893-904. doi: 10.1038/ncb1616. Epub 2007 Jul 8.


Invasive cell migration through tissue barriers requires pericellular remodelling of extracellular matrix (ECM) executed by cell-surface proteases, particularly membrane-type-1 matrix metalloproteinase (MT1-MMP/MMP-14). Using time-resolved multimodal microscopy, we show how invasive HT-1080 fibrosarcoma and MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells coordinate mechanotransduction and fibrillar collagen remodelling by segregating the anterior force-generating leading edge containing beta1 integrin, MT1-MMP and F-actin from a posterior proteolytic zone executing fibre breakdown. During forward movement, sterically impeding fibres are selectively realigned into microtracks of single-cell calibre. Microtracks become expanded by multiple following cells by means of the large-scale degradation of lateral ECM interfaces, ultimately prompting transition towards collective invasion similar to that in vivo. Both ECM track widening and transition to multicellular invasion are dependent on MT1-MMP-mediated collagenolysis, shown by broad-spectrum protease inhibition and RNA interference. Thus, invasive migration and proteolytic ECM remodelling are interdependent processes that control tissue micropatterning and macropatterning and, consequently, individual and collective cell migration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actins / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Movement / physiology*
  • Cell Shape
  • Collagen / metabolism
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Fibrosarcoma / metabolism
  • Fibrosarcoma / pathology
  • Humans
  • Integrin beta1 / metabolism
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 14 / genetics
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 14 / metabolism*
  • Microscopy / methods
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness*
  • Protease Inhibitors / metabolism
  • RNA, Small Interfering / genetics
  • RNA, Small Interfering / metabolism
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / genetics
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / metabolism


  • Actins
  • Integrin beta1
  • Protease Inhibitors
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins
  • Collagen
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 14