Directed migration of cancer cells guided by the graded texture of the underlying matrix

Nat Mater. 2016 Jul;15(7):792-801. doi: 10.1038/nmat4586. Epub 2016 Mar 14.


Living cells and the extracellular matrix (ECM) can exhibit complex interactions that define key developmental, physiological and pathological processes. Here, we report a new type of directed migration-which we term 'topotaxis'-guided by the gradient of the nanoscale topographic features in the cells' ECM environment. We show that the direction of topotaxis is reflective of the effective cell stiffness, and that it depends on the balance of the ECM-triggered signalling pathways PI(3)K-Akt and ROCK-MLCK. In melanoma cancer cells, this balance can be altered by different ECM inputs, pharmacological perturbations or genetic alterations, particularly a loss of PTEN in aggressive melanoma cells. We conclude that topotaxis is a product of the material properties of cells and the surrounding ECM, and propose that the invasive capacity of many cancers may depend broadly on topotactic responses, providing a potentially attractive mechanism for controlling invasive and metastatic behaviour.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Movement*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Melanoma* / pathology
  • PTEN Phosphohydrolase / genetics
  • PTEN Phosphohydrolase / metabolism
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / genetics
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Surface Properties
  • Taxis Response / physiology*
  • rho-Associated Kinases / genetics
  • rho-Associated Kinases / metabolism


  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases
  • rho-Associated Kinases
  • PTEN Phosphohydrolase