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Theses Doctoral

Regulation of Breast Cancer Cell Morphological and Invasive Characteristics by the Extracellular Environment

Ziperstein, Michelle Joy

The aim of this thesis is to evaluate the role of the extracellular environment in regulating breast cancer cell morphological and invasive characteristics. In vitro experiments of breast cancer cell lines in three dimensional matrices, which afford control over variables of interest while maintaining physiological relevance, were utilized for this purpose. We evaluated the sensitivity of cell morphology to the dimensionality, biochemistry, and mechanical properties of the extracellular environment as well as the reciprocal effects cells display when remodeling the extracellular environment during invasion.

Chapter 1 introduces background material on breast cancer development, classification systems, and in vitro methods of research. Chapter 2 describes protocols for cell care and experiments used in these studies. In chapter 3, we explore the role of fibrillar collagen I environments in breast cancer cell invasion. This was motivated by previous research that has associated high breast tissue density with breast cancer risk and poor prognosis as well as tissue stiffness with cancer cell aggressiveness. Breast cancer cells were found to regain an invasive phenotype in sterically constrained environments when the extracellular matrix included a fibrillar component. In chapter 4, the relationship between cell morphology and invasive behavior in various dimensional contexts was assessed. Anecdotal evidence has shown stellate morphology may be associated with epithelial to mesenchymal transition and invasive capacity in cancer cells. Differences in the dimensionality and biochemistry of the environment resulted in changes to cell aggregate morphology. Although morphology did not predict invasive capacity as measured by spheroid invasion in collagen I, invasion was found to correlate with cancer-related gene expression profiling, suggesting the ability of cancer cells to utilize more than one mode of invasion. Chapter 5 explores to what degree the presence of invasive cells can give rise to invasive behavior from noninvasive cells. Segregation of cell subtypes during co-culture spheroid formation was found to be altered in the presence of BME. When implanted into collagen gels, invasive cell lines that generate structural changes to the extracellular matrix on their own were able to confer invasive behavior to otherwise noninvasive cell lines in some cases. Chapter 6 summarizes these findings and suggests further studies. Appendix 1 lists useful abbreviations. In Appendices 2 and 3, codes for ImageJ and Matlab-based analyses are recorded.

Through this work, we see how cell morphology and invasive capacity are influenced by the extracellular environment. Cells that can interact with components of the extracellular matrix through matrix-specific integrins show a range of capacities for remodeling the extracellular environment, which in turn plays a role in invasive capacity. We anticipate that enhanced understanding of the role of the extracellular environment in regulating cell morphology and invasive behavior will lead to advances in the study of cell locomotion as well as in cancer research, diagnosis, and treatment.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Kaufman, Laura J.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 3, 2016