Scientists observe cells moving through small channels


Oct. 6 (UPI) — Newly captured video of cells moving through narrow channels promises to help scientists better understand the mechanics of cell migration.

The observations, described Tuesday in the journal Biophysical Journal, could offer insights into how cancer metastasizes, or spreads from one area of the body to another.

“Our results describe how cells can migrate and deform through confined spaces, providing potentially new ways to envision cell motility in small blood capillaries in vivo,” senior study author Daniel Riveline, researcher at the University of Strasbourg in France, said in a news release.

Until now, cell motility has mostly been studied on 2D surfaces, but in the body, migrating cells travel through 3D environs. Most often, cells move through blood vessels. For the study, researchers developed vessel-like, micro-fabricated channels.

Some channels were open, confined by just three walls, while others were closer, confined by four walls. Researchers micro-fabricated both straight channels and channels characterized by bottlenecks.

When released into the channels, connective tissue cells called fibroblasts moved fairly freely through straight channels. However, bottlenecks sometimes prevent cells from moving freely, bringing them to a standstill.

The observations suggest cells might not be able to change direction when blocked by a constricted blood vessel.

Researchers also observed the movements of oral squamous epithelial cells, the cells that make up the structural tissue in the lining of the mouth. Some of the cells featured a mutant keratin protein linked with squamous cancers.

When facing a bottleneck, healthy cells were able to concentrate keratin production toward the rear of the cellular nucleus, allowing the cells to take a deformed shape and squeeze through. Cells with mutant keratin protein were unable to bypass the bottleneck.

“Because initial arrest in the capillary is critical for tumor cells to metastasize to secondary sites in distant organs, blockage by mutant keratin may provide advantages for tumor seeding, survival, and proliferation,” Riveline said.

“Future studies could take this channel strategy to identify signaling networks that are modified in the context of cancer,” Riveline said.

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