Mechanobiology of Collective Cell Migration in 3D Microenvironments

Alex M. Hruska, Haiqian Yang, Susan E. Leggett, Ming Guo, Ian Y. Wong

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Tumor cells invade individually or in groups, mediated by mechanical interactions between cells and their surrounding matrix. These multicellular dynamics are reminiscent of leader-follower coordination and epithelial-mesenchymal transitions (EMT) in tissue development, which may occur via dysregulation of associated molecular or physical mechanisms. However, it remains challenging to elucidate such phenotypic heterogeneity and plasticity without precision measurements of single-cell behavior. The convergence of technological developments in live cell imaging, biophysical measurements, and 3D biomaterials is highly promising to reveal how tumor cells cooperate in aberrant microenvironments. Here, we highlight new results in collective migration from the perspective of cancer biology and bioengineering. First, we review the biology of collective cell migration. Next, we consider physics-inspired analyses based on order parameters and phase transitions. Further, we examine the interplay of metabolism and phenotypic heterogeneity in collective migration. We then review the extracellular matrix and new modalities for mechanical characterization of 3D biomaterials. We also explore epithelial-mesenchymal plasticity and implications for tumor progression. Finally, we speculate on future directions for integrating mechanobiology and cancer cell biology to elucidate collective migration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCurrent Cancer Research
Number of pages32
StatePublished - 2023
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameCurrent Cancer Research
ISSN (Print)2199-2584
ISSN (Electronic)2199-2592


  • Biomaterials
  • Epithelial-mesenchymal transition
  • Extracellular matrix
  • Metabolic heterogeneity
  • Order parameter
  • Traction force microscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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