Matrix Rigidity Controls Epithelial-Mesenchymal Plasticity and Tumor Metastasis via a Mechanoresponsive EPHA2/LYN Complex

Dev Cell. 2020 Aug 10;54(3):302-316.e7. doi: 10.1016/j.devcel.2020.05.031. Epub 2020 Jun 22.


Mechanical cues from the extracellular matrix (ECM) regulate various cellular processes via distinct mechanotransduction pathways. In breast cancer, increased ECM stiffness promotes epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), cell invasion, and metastasis. Here, we identify a mechanosensitive EPHA2/LYN protein complex regulating EMT and metastasis in response to increasing ECM stiffness during tumor progression. High ECM stiffness leads to ligand-independent phosphorylation of ephrin receptor EPHA2, which recruits and activates the LYN kinase. LYN phosphorylates the EMT transcription factor TWIST1 to release TWIST1 from its cytoplasmic anchor G3BP2 to enter the nucleus, thus triggering EMT and invasion. Genetic and pharmacological inhibition of this pathway prevents breast tumor invasion and metastasis in vivo. In human breast cancer samples, activation of this pathway correlates with collagen fiber alignment, a marker of increasing ECM stiffness. Our findings reveal an EPHA2/LYN/TWIST1 mechanotransduction pathway that responds to mechanical signals from the tumor microenvironment to drive EMT, invasion, and metastasis.

Keywords: ECM stiffness and breast cancer; EMT; EPHA2; LYN; TWIST1; epithelial-mesenchymal transition; matrix stiffness; mechanotransduction; metastasis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Cell Adhesion / physiology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Movement / physiology
  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition / genetics
  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition / physiology*
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Mammary Neoplasms, Animal / metabolism
  • Mechanotransduction, Cellular / genetics
  • Mice
  • Nuclear Proteins / metabolism*
  • Receptor, EphA2 / genetics
  • Receptor, EphA2 / metabolism*
  • Tumor Microenvironment / genetics
  • Tumor Microenvironment / physiology
  • Twist-Related Protein 1 / metabolism*


  • Nuclear Proteins
  • TWIST1 protein, human
  • Twist-Related Protein 1
  • Receptor, EphA2