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Probing cancer cell invasion

Mar. 1, 2022, 8:00 AM

by Leigh MacMillan

Cancer cells metastasize, or spread to different parts of the body, by escaping from a primary tumor and invading neighboring tissues. To penetrate normal tissue barriers, migrating cancer cells form membrane protrusions called invadopodia that degrade the surrounding extracellular matrix (ECM). 

Aron Parekh, PhD, and colleagues have explored mechanisms of cancer cell invasion. They previously found that ECM rigidity regulates contractile forces and invadopodia activity in individual head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) cells. They recently showed that when HNSCC cells are in pairs (versus individual cells), contractile forces, invadopodia formation and ECM degradation increase in response to ECM rigidity. 

The findings, reported in Data in Brief, demonstrate the impact of ECM rigidity on the contractile and invasive properties of HNSCC cells in contact with each other. They also provide a basis for future studies aimed at understanding mechanisms of cancer invasion and metastasis.

Rachel Jerrell and Mitchell Leih joined Parekh on the studies. The research was supported by a Research Scholar Grant from the American Cancer Society. 

Parekh was assistant professor of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery at VUMC and assistant professor of Biomedical Engineering at Vanderbilt until September 2021. He is now a Scientific Programs Manager at Susan G. Komen.

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