The Mechanics of Single Cell and Collective Migration of Tumor Cells

J Biomech Eng. 2017 Feb 1;139(2):0210051-0210059. doi: 10.1115/1.4035121.


Metastasis is a dynamic process in which cancer cells navigate the tumor microenvironment, largely guided by external chemical and mechanical cues. Our current understanding of metastatic cell migration has relied primarily on studies of single cell migration, most of which have been performed using two-dimensional (2D) cell culture techniques and, more recently, using three-dimensional (3D) scaffolds. However, the current paradigm focused on single cell movements is shifting toward the idea that collective migration is likely one of the primary modes of migration during metastasis of many solid tumors. Not surprisingly, the mechanics of collective migration differ significantly from single cell movements. As such, techniques must be developed that enable in-depth analysis of collective migration, and those for examining single cell migration should be adopted and modified to study collective migration to allow for accurate comparison of the two. In this review, we will describe engineering approaches for studying metastatic migration, both single cell and collective, and how these approaches have yielded significant insight into the mechanics governing each process.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Movement*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Mechanotransduction, Cellular
  • Models, Biological*
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / pathology*
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / physiopathology*