Biophysical regulation of cancer cells

The cells of a multicellular organism will encounter a wide range of biophysical cues, ranging from tensile and compressive forces to the architecture and visco-elasticity of the surrounding extracellular matrix. Such mechanobiological interactions can directly impact cell signaling and function, including the survival, growth and motility of individual cancer cells. Despite this, the nature of many biomechanical signals and how they are interpreted by the cells remain poorly understood. We work on that! For example, healthy extracellular matrix can have an anti-tumorigenic function through epigenetic regulation (Kaukonen et al. 2016). Substrate mechanics can also influence cell migration directly, as many cell types are known to sense and move toward stiffer matrix; this process is called durotaxis. Similar gradients are found in tumors, and we have now uncovered a previously unappreciated capacity of cancer cells to migrate against stiffness gradients, toward softer environments, to reach a specific stiffness optimum. Finally, while many studies so far have focused on the elastic properties of the matrix, some tissue types are also naturally exposed to more dynamic forces. We are studying how such mechanical perturbations can influence tumorigenesis and, conversely, how tissue mechanics may be influenced by tumor progression.

Related publication from the lab
  1. Isomursu et al., Nature Materials (2022)
  2. Kaukonen et al. Nature Communications (2016)