The independent roles of mechanical, structural and adhesion characteristics of 3D hydrogels on the regulation of cancer invasion and dissemination

Biomaterials. 2013 Dec;34(37):9486-95. doi: 10.1016/j.biomaterials.2013.08.077. Epub 2013 Sep 14.


Metastasis begins with the escape, or dissemination, of cancer cells from the primary tumor. We recently demonstrated that tumors preferentially disseminate into collagen I and not into basement membrane protein gels (Matrigel). In this study, we used synthetic polymer systems to define material properties that could induce dissemination into Matrigel. We first specifically varied rigidity by varying the crosslinking density of poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) networks within Matrigel scaffolds. Increased microenvironmental rigidity limited epithelial growth but did not promote dissemination. We next incorporated adhesive signals into the PEG network using peptide-conjugated cyclodextrin (α-CDYRGDS) rings. The α-CDYRGDS rings threaded along the PEG polymers, enabling independent control of matrix mechanics, adhesive peptide composition, and adhesive density. Adhesive PEG networks induced dissemination of normal and malignant mammary epithelial cells at intermediate values of adhesion and rigidity. Our data reveal that microenvironmental signals can induce dissemination of normal and malignant epithelial cells without requiring the fibrillar structure of collagen I or containing collagen I-specific adhesion sequences. Finally, the nanobiomaterials and assays developed in this study are generally useful both in 3D culture of primary mammalian tissues and in the systematic evaluation of the specific role of mechanical and adhesive inputs on 3D tumor growth, invasion, and dissemination.

Keywords: Breast cancer; Cell adhesion; Dissemination; Invasion; Mechanical properties; Poly(ethylene) glycol hydrogels.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biocompatible Materials / chemistry*
  • Breast / cytology
  • Breast / pathology*
  • Cell Adhesion
  • Cell Movement
  • Collagen / chemistry*
  • Cyclodextrins / chemistry
  • Drug Combinations
  • Female
  • Hydrogels / chemistry*
  • Laminin / chemistry*
  • Mammary Neoplasms, Animal / pathology*
  • Polyethylene Glycols / chemistry*
  • Proteoglycans / chemistry*
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Biocompatible Materials
  • Cyclodextrins
  • Drug Combinations
  • Hydrogels
  • Laminin
  • Proteoglycans
  • matrigel
  • Polyethylene Glycols
  • Collagen