Decoding Single Cell Morphology in Osteotropic Breast Cancer Cells for Dissecting Their Migratory, Molecular and Biophysical Heterogeneity

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch articleContributedpeer-review


Breast cancer is a heterogeneous disease and the mechanistic framework for differential osteotropism among intrinsic breast cancer subtypes is unknown. Hypothesizing that cell morphology could be an integrated readout for the functional state of a cancer cell, we established a catalogue of the migratory, molecular and biophysical traits of MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells, compared it with two enhanced bone-seeking derivative cell lines and integrated these findings with single cell morphology profiles. Such knowledge could be essential for predicting metastatic capacities in breast cancer. High-resolution microscopy revealed a heterogeneous and specific spectrum of single cell morphologies in bone-seeking cells, which correlated with differential migration and stiffness. While parental MDA-MB-231 cells showed long and dynamic membrane protrusions and were enriched in motile cells with continuous and mesenchymal cell migration, bone-seeking cells appeared with discontinuous mesenchymal or amoeboid-like migration. Although non-responsive to CXCL12, bone-seeking cells responded to epidermal growth factor with a morphotype shift and differential expression of genes controlling cell shape and directional migration. Hence, single cell morphology encodes the molecular, migratory and biophysical architecture of breast cancer cells and is specifically altered among osteotropic phenotypes. Quantitative morpho-profiling could aid in dissecting breast cancer heterogeneity and in refining clinically relevant intrinsic breast cancer subtypes.


Original languageEnglish
Article number603
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jan 2022

External IDs

Scopus 85123310536
PubMed 35158871
unpaywall 10.3390/cancers14030603
WOS 000754584800001
Mendeley 292d4fc4-b3d2-375d-b566-aae8456e34c0
ORCID /0000-0001-7687-0983/work/142253713


Sustainable Development Goals

ASJC Scopus subject areas


  • atomic force microscopy, bone metastasis, breast cancer cell, cell morphology, lectin, membrane protrusion, migration, transcriptome

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