Cell cytoskeleton and stiffness are mechanical indicators of organotropism in breast cancer

Kai Tang, Ying Xin, Keming Li, Xi Chen, Youhua Tan

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Tumor metastasis involves the dissemination of tumor cells from the primary lesion to other organs and the subsequent formation of secondary tumors, which leads to the majority of cancer-related deaths. Clinical findings show that cancer cell dissemination is not random but exhibits organ preference or organotropism. While intrinsic biochemical factors of cancer cells have been extensively studied in organotropism, much less is known about the role of cell cytoskeleton and mechanics. Herein, we demonstrate that cell cytoskeleton and mechanics are correlated with organotropism. The result of cell stiffness measurements shows that breast cancer cells with bone tropism are much stiffer with enhanced F-actin, while tumor cells with brain tropism are softer with lower F-actin than their parental cells. The difference in cellular stiffness matches the difference in the rigidity of their metastasized organs. Further, disrupting the cytoskeleton of breast cancer cells with bone tropism not only elevates the expressions of brain metastasis-related genes but also increases cell spreading and proliferation on soft substrates mimicking the stiffness of brain tissue. Stabilizing the cytoskeleton of cancer cells with brain tropism upregulates bone metastasis-related genes while reduces the mechanoadaptation ability on soft substrates. Taken together, these findings demonstrate that cell cytoskeleton and biophysical properties of breast cancer subpopulations correlate with their metastatic preference in terms of gene expression pattern and mechanoadaptation ability, implying the potential role of cell cytoskeleton in organotropism.

Original languageEnglish
Article number259
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021


  • Cell mechanics
  • Cell stiffness
  • Cytoskeleton
  • Mechanoadaptation
  • Organotropism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry,Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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