THE ROLE OF THE MECHANICAL ENVIRONMENT ON CANCER CELL TRANSMIGRATION AND MRNA LOCALIZATION
Hamilla, Susan M.
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Most cancer-related deaths are due to metastasis formation, the ability of cancer cells to break away from the primary tumor site, transmigrate through the endothelium, and form secondary tumors in distant areas. Many studies have identified links between the mechanical properties of the cellular microenvironment and the behavior of cancer cells. Cells may experience heterogeneous microenvironments of varying stiffness during tumor progression, transmigration, and invasion into the basement membrane. In addition to mechanical factors, the localization of RNAs to lamellipodial regions has been proposed to play an important part in metastasis. This dissertation provides a quantitative evaluation of the biophysical effects on cancer cell transmigration and RNA localization. In the first part of this dissertation, we sought to compare cancer cell and leukocyte transmigration and investigate the impact of matrix stiffness on transmigration process. We found that cancer cell transmigration includes an additional step, ‘incorporation’, into the endothelial cell (EC) monolayer. During this phase, cancer cells physically displace ECs and spread into the monolayer. Furthermore, the effects of subendothelial matrix stiffness and endothelial activation on cancer cell incorporation are cell-specific, a notable difference from the process by which leukocytes transmigrate. Collectively, our results provide mechanistic insights into tumor cell extravasation and demonstrate that incorporation into the endothelium is one of the earliest steps. In the next part of this work, we investigated how matrix stiffness impacts RNA localization and its relevance to cancer metastasis. In migrating cells, the tumor suppressor protein, adenomatous polyposis coli (APC) targets RNAs to cellular protrusions. We observed that increasing stiffness promotes the peripheral localization of these APC-dependent RNAs and that cellular contractility plays a role in regulating this pathway. We next investigated the mechanism underlying the effect of substrate stiffness and cellular contractility. We found that contractility drives localization of RNAs to protrusions through modulation of detyrosinated microtubules, a network of modified microtubules that associate with, and are required for localization of APC-dependent RNAs. These results raise the possibility that as the matrix environment becomes stiffer during tumor progression, it promotes the localization of RNAs and ultimately induces a metastatic phenotype.