While significant advances have been made toward revealing the molecular mechanisms that influence breast cancer progression, much less is known about the associated cellular mechanical properties. To this end, we use particle-tracking microrheology to investigate the interplay among intracellular mechanics, three-dimensional matrix stiffness, and transforming potential in a mammary epithelial cell (MEC) cancer progression series. We use a well-characterized model system where human-derived MCF10A MECs overexpress either ErbB2, 14-3-3ζ, or both ErbB2 and 14-3-3ζ, with empty vector as a control. Our results show that MECs possessing ErbB2 transforming potential stiffen in response to elevated matrix stiffness, whereas non-transformed MECs or those overexpressing only 14-3-3ζ do no exhibit this response. We further observe that overexpression of ErbB2 alone is associated with the highest degree of intracellular sensitivity to matrix stiffness, and that the effect of transforming potential on intracellular stiffness is matrix-stiffness-dependent. Moreover, our intracellular stiffness measurements parallel cell migration behavior that has been previously reported for these MEC sublines. Given the current knowledge base of breast cancer mechanobiology, these findings suggest that there may be a positive relationship among intracellular stiffness sensitivity, cell motility, and perturbed mechanotransduction in breast cancer.
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