3D Microenvironment Stiffness Regulates Tumor Spheroid Growth and Mechanics via p21 and ROCK

Publikation: Beitrag in FachzeitschriftForschungsartikelBeigetragenBegutachtung



The mechanical properties of cancer cells and their microenvironment contribute to breast cancer progression. While mechanosensing has been extensively studied using 2D substrates, much less is known about it in a physiologically more relevant 3D context. Here it is demonstrated that breast cancer tumor spheroids, growing in 3D polyethylene glycol-heparin hydrogels, are sensitive to their environment stiffness. During tumor spheroid growth, compressive stresses of up to 2 kPa build up, as quantitated using elastic polymer beads as stress sensors. Atomic force microscopy reveals that tumor spheroid stiffness increases with hydrogel stiffness. Also, constituent cell stiffness increases in a Rho associated kinase (ROCK)- and F-actin-dependent manner. Increased hydrogel stiffness correlated with attenuated tumor spheroid growth, a higher proportion of cells in G0/G1 phase, and elevated levels of the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor p21. Drug-mediated ROCK inhibition not only reverses cell stiffening upon culture in stiff hydrogels but also increases tumor spheroid growth. Taken together, a mechanism by which the growth of a tumor spheroid can be regulated via cytoskeleton rearrangements in response to its mechanoenvironment is revealed here. Thus, the findings contribute to a better understanding of how cancer cells react to compressive stress when growing under confinement in stiff environments.


FachzeitschriftAdvanced Biosystems
PublikationsstatusVeröffentlicht - 24 Juli 2019

Externe IDs

Scopus 85069930679
ORCID /0000-0001-5624-1717/work/142239007
ORCID /0000-0002-2433-916X/work/142250425
ORCID /0000-0003-0189-3448/work/159607170


Ziele für nachhaltige Entwicklung


  • Acrylic Resins/chemistry, Actins/genetics, Biomechanical Phenomena, Cell Culture Techniques, Cell Proliferation/drug effects, Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p21/genetics, Female, G1 Phase Cell Cycle Checkpoints/genetics, Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic, Heparin/chemistry, Humans, Hydrogels/chemical synthesis, MCF-7 Cells, Mechanotransduction, Cellular/genetics, Polyethylene Glycols/chemistry, Single-Cell Analysis/methods, Spheroids, Cellular/drug effects, Tumor Microenvironment/drug effects, rho-Associated Kinases/genetics