Three-dimensional collagen matrix induces a mechanosensitive invasive epithelial phenotype

Sci Rep. 2017 Feb 10:7:42088. doi: 10.1038/srep42088.


A critical step in breast cancer progression is local tissue invasion, during which cells pass from the epithelial compartment to the stromal compartment. We recently showed that malignant leader cells can promote the invasion of otherwise non-invasive epithelial follower cells, but the effects of this induced-invasion phenomenon on follower cell phenotype remain unclear. Notably, this process can expose epithelial cells to the stromal extracellular matrix (ECM), which is distinct from the ECM within the normal epithelial microenvironment. Here, we used a 3D epithelial morphogenesis model in which cells were cultured in biochemically and mechanically defined matrices to examine matrix-mediated gene expression and the associated phenotypic response. We found that 3D collagen matrix promoted expression of mesenchymal genes including MT1-MMP, which was required for collagen-stimulated invasive behavior. Epithelial invasion required matrix anchorage as well as signaling through Src, PI3K, and Rac1, and increasingly stiff collagen promoted dispersive epithelial cell invasion. These results suggest that leader cell-facilitated access to the stromal ECM may trigger an invasive phenotype in follower epithelial cells that could enable them to actively participate in local tissue invasion.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cell Culture Techniques
  • Cell Movement*
  • Collagen / metabolism*
  • Epithelial Cells / physiology*
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Phenotype
  • Tumor Microenvironment*


  • Collagen