EphA2 is a receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK) that is sensitive to spatial and mechanical aspects of the cell's microenvironment. Misregulation of EphA2 occurs in many aggressive cancers. Although its juxtacrine signaling geometry (EphA2's cognate ligand ephrinA1 is expressed on the surface of an apposing cell) provides a mechanism by which the receptor may experience extracellular forces, this also renders the system challenging to decode. By depositing living cells on synthetic supported lipid membranes displaying ephrinA1, we have reconstituted key features of the juxtacrine EphA2-ephrinA1 signaling system while maintaining the ability to perturb the spatial and mechanical properties of the membrane-cell interface with precision. In addition, we developed a trans-endocytosis assay to monitor internalization of ephrinA1 from a supported membrane into the apposing cell using a quantitative three-dimensional fluorescence microscopy assay. Using this experimental platform to mimic a cell-cell junction, we found that the signaling complex is not efficiently internalized when lateral reorganization at the membrane-cell contact sites is physically hindered. This suggests that EphA2-ephrinA1 trans-endocytosis is sensitive to the mechanical properties of a cell's microenvironment and may have implications in physical aspects of tumor biology.
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