Tumor emboli- A ggregates of tumor cells within vessels-pose a clinical challenge as they are associated with increased metastasis and tumor recurrence. When growing within a vessel, tumor emboli are subject to a unique mechanical constraint provided by the tubular geometry of the vessel. Current models of tumor emboli use unconstrained multicellular tumor spheroids, which neglect this mechanical interplay. Here, we modeled a lymphatic vessel as a 200 μm-diameter channel in either a stiff or soft, bioinert agarose matrix to create a vessel-like constraint model (VLCM), and we modeled colon or breast cancer tumor emboli with aggregates of HCT116 or SUM149PT cells, respectively. The stiff matrix VLCM constrained the tumor emboli to the cylindrical channel, which led to continuous growth of the emboli, in contrast to the growth rate reduction that unconstrained spheroids exhibit. Emboli morphology in the soft matrix VLCM, however, was dependent on the magnitude of mechanical mismatch between the matrix and the cell aggregates. In general, when the elastic modulus of the matrix of the VLCM was greater than the emboli (EVLCM/Eemb > 1), the emboli were constrained to grow within the channel, and when the elastic modulus of the matrix was less than the emboli (0 < EVLCM/Eemb < 1), the emboli bulged into the matrix. Due to a large difference in myosin II expression between the cell lines, we hypothesized that tumor cell aggregate stiffness is an indicator of cellular force-generating capability. Inhibitors of myosin-related force generation decreased the elastic modulus and/or increased the stress relaxation of the tumor cell aggregates, effectively increasing the mechanical mismatch. The increased mechanical mismatch after drug treatment was correlated with increased confinement of tumor emboli growth along the channel, which may translate to increased tumor burden due to the increased tumor volume within the diffusion distance of nutrients and oxygen.
- force generation
- tumor emboli