Local extracellular matrix alignment directs cellular protrusion dynamics and migration through Rac1 and FAK

Integr Biol (Camb). 2016 Aug 8;8(8):821-35. doi: 10.1039/c6ib00030d. Epub 2016 Jul 7.


Cell migration within 3D interstitial microenvironments is sensitive to extracellular matrix (ECM) properties, but the mechanisms that regulate migration guidance by 3D matrix features remain unclear. To examine the mechanisms underlying the cell migration response to aligned ECM, which is prevalent at the tumor-stroma interface, we utilized time-lapse microscopy to compare the behavior of MDA-MB-231 breast adenocarcinoma cells within randomly organized and well-aligned 3D collagen ECM. We developed a novel experimental system in which cellular morphodynamics during initial 3D cell spreading served as a reductionist model for the complex process of matrix-directed 3D cell migration. Using this approach, we found that ECM alignment induced spatial anisotropy of cells' matrix probing by promoting protrusion frequency, persistence, and lengthening along the alignment axis and suppressing protrusion dynamics orthogonal to alignment. Preference for on-axis behaviors was dependent upon FAK and Rac1 signaling and translated across length and time scales such that cells within aligned ECM exhibited accelerated elongation, front-rear polarization, and migration relative to cells in random ECM. Together, these findings indicate that adhesive and protrusive signaling allow cells to respond to coordinated physical cues in the ECM, promoting migration efficiency and cell migration guidance by 3D matrix structure.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anisotropy
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cell Adhesion
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Movement*
  • Cell Surface Extensions*
  • Collagen / chemistry
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Focal Adhesion Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Mammary Neoplasms, Animal / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Signal Transduction
  • rac1 GTP-Binding Protein / metabolism*


  • RAC1 protein, human
  • Collagen
  • Focal Adhesion Protein-Tyrosine Kinases
  • rac1 GTP-Binding Protein