Breast Cancer Cells Transition from Mesenchymal to Amoeboid Migration in Tunable Three-Dimensional Silk-Collagen Hydrogels

Amanda S. Khoo, Thomas M. Valentin, Susan E. Leggett, Dhananjay Bhaskar, Elisa M. Bye, Shoham Benmelech, Blanche C. Ip, Ian Y. Wong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Invading cancer cells adapt their migration phenotype in response to mechanical and biochemical cues from the extracellular matrix. For instance, mesenchymal migration is associated with strong cell-matrix adhesions and an elongated morphology, while amoeboid migration is associated with minimal cell-matrix adhesions and a rounded morphology. However, it remains challenging to elucidate the role of matrix mechanics and biochemistry since these are both dependent on extracellular matrix protein concentration. Here, we demonstrate a composite silk fibroin and collagen I hydrogel where stiffness and microstructure can be systematically tuned over a wide range. Using an overlay assay geometry, we show that the invasion of metastatic breast cancer cells exhibits a biphasic dependence on silk fibroin concentration at fixed collagen I concentration, first increasing as the hydrogel stiffness increases then decreasing as the pore size of silk fibroin decreases. Indeed, mesenchymal morphology exhibits a similar biphasic dependence on silk fibroin concentration, while amoeboid morphologies were favored when cell-matrix adhesions were less effective. We used exogenous biochemical treatments to perturb cells toward increased contractility and a mesenchymal morphology as well as to disrupt cytoskeletal function and promote an amoeboid morphology. Overall, we envision that this tunable biomaterial platform in a 96-well plate format will be widely applicable to screen cancer cell migration against combinations of designer biomaterials and targeted inhibitors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4341-4354
Number of pages14
JournalACS Biomaterials Science and Engineering
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 9 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • 3D culture
  • extracellular matrix
  • high content screening
  • interpenetrating network
  • overlay assay

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomaterials
  • Biomedical Engineering


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