During metastasis, cells can use proteolytic activity to form tube-like "microtracks" within the extracellular matrix (ECM). Using these microtracks, cells can migrate unimpeded through the stroma. To investigate the molecular mechanisms of microtrack migration, we developed an in vitro 3D micromolded collagen platform. When in microtracks, cells tend to migrate unidirectionally. Since focal adhesions are the primary mechanism by which cells interact with the ECM, we examined the roles of several focal adhesion molecules in driving unidirectional motion. Vinculin knockdown results in the repeated reversal of migration direction compared with control cells. Tracking the position of the Golgi centroid relative to the position of the nucleus centroid reveals that vinculin knockdown disrupts cell polarity in microtracks. Vinculin also directs migration on 2D substrates and in 3D uniform collagen matrices, indicated by reduced speed, shorter net displacement and decreased directionality in vinculin-deficient cells. In addition, vinculin is necessary for Focal Adhesion Kinase (FAK) activation in 3D as vinculin knockdown results in reduced FAK activation in both 3D uniform collagen matrices and microtracks, but not on 2D substrates, and accordingly, FAK inhibition halts cell migration in 3D microtracks. Together, these data indicate that vinculin plays a key role in polarization during migration.
© 2016 by The American Society for Cell Biology.