Cooperative Roles of SDF-1 alpha and EGF Gradients on Tumor Cell Migration Revealed by a Robust 3D Microfluidic Model
Chemokine-mediated directed tumor cell migration within a three dimensional (3D) matrix, or chemoinvasion, is an important early step in cancer metastasis. Despite its clinical importance, it is largely unknown how cytokine and growth factor gradients within the tumor microenvironment regulate chemoinvasion. We studied tumor cell chemoinvasion in well-defined and stable chemical gradients using a robust 3D microfluidic model. We used CXCL12 (also known as SDF-1 alpha) and epidermal growth factor (EGF), two well-known extracellular signaling molecules that co-exist in the tumor microenvironment (e. g. lymph nodes or intravasation sites), and a malignant breast tumor cell line, MDA-MB-231, embedded in type I collagen. When subjected to SDF-1 alpha gradients alone, MDA-MB-231 cells migrated up the gradient, and the measured chemosensitivity (defined as the average cell velocity along the direction of the gradient) followed the ligand - receptor (SDF-1 alpha - CXCR4) binding kinetics. On the other hand, when subjected to EGF gradients alone, tumor cells increased their overall motility, but without statistically significant chemotactic (directed) migration, in contrast to previous reports using 2D chemotaxis assays. Interestingly, we found that the chemoinvasive behavior to SDF-1 alpha gradients was abrogated or even reversed in the presence of uniform concentrations of EGF; however, the presence of SDF-1 alpha and EGF together modulated tumor cell motility cooperatively. These findings demonstrate the capabilities of our microfluidic model in re-creating complex microenvironments for cells, and the importance of cooperative roles of multiple cytokine and growth factor gradients in regulating cell migration in 3D environments.