Cell-matrix adhesions in 3D

Matrix Biol. 2011 Sep;30(7-8):363-8. doi: 10.1016/j.matbio.2011.06.001. Epub 2011 Jun 23.


Cells in a three-dimensional (3D) extracellular matrix environment often display different properties and behavior compared to cells cultured on a two-dimensional (2D) substrate. Recent studies characterizing the cell-matrix adhesions formed by cells within a 3D matrix have arrived at contradictory conclusions regarding the presence and composition of adhesions. Here we review this literature, and provide a comparative compilation of information found in published studies from the 3D cell-matrix adhesion field in order to identify shared and divergent conclusions and conceptually important areas that require further research. Although there is a general consensus that discrete cell-matrix adhesions exist in various 3D matrix environments, there are specific exceptions, particularly in cells undergoing amoeboid migration. There are also technical issues to consider when imaging adhesions in 3D matrix; for example, over-expression of a cytoskeletal cell adhesion component can potentially cloud the visualization of adhesions and even alter the mode of cell migration. Properties such as stiffness and local matrix topography may also affect the composition of cell-matrix adhesions. For example, even though cells contain integrin-based 3D adhesions, there can be substantial variability within these adhesions in the presence of force-dependent cytoskeletal components such as vinculin. These new findings and ideas provide promising new leads for understanding the regulation and function of cell-matrix adhesions in 3D matrix.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biophysical Phenomena*
  • Cell Adhesion
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Movement
  • Cell-Matrix Junctions / chemistry
  • Cell-Matrix Junctions / physiology*
  • Collagen / chemistry
  • Cytoskeleton / chemistry
  • Cytoskeleton / physiology
  • Elasticity
  • Extracellular Matrix / chemistry
  • Extracellular Matrix / physiology
  • Gels / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional*
  • Integrins / chemistry
  • Vinculin / chemistry


  • Gels
  • Integrins
  • Vinculin
  • Collagen