Metastasis of mesenchymal tumor cells is traditionally considered as a single-cell process. Here, we report an emergent collective phenomenon in which the dissemination rate of mesenchymal breast cancer cells from three-dimensional tumors depends on the tumor geometry. Combining experimental measurements and computational modeling, we demonstrate that the collective dynamics is coordinated by the mechanical feedback between individual cells and their surrounding extracellular matrix (ECM). We find the tissue-like fibrous ECM supports long-range physical interactions between cells, which turn geometric cues into regulated cell dissemination dynamics. Our results suggest that migrating cells in three-dimensional ECM represent a distinct class of an active particle system in which the collective dynamics is governed by the remodeling of the environment rather than direct particle-particle interactions.
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