The root cause of cancer mortality and morbidity is the metastatic spread of the primary tumor, but underlying mechanisms remain elusive. Here we investigate biomechanical interactions that may accompany invasive spread of melanoma cells. We find that metastatic cells can exert considerable traction forces and modify local collagen organization within a 3D matrix. When this re-organization is mimicked using a nano-fabricated model of aligned extracellular matrix fibers, metastatic cells, including less invasive melanoma cells, were in turn induced to align, elongate and migrate, guided by the local ridge orientations. Strikingly, we found that this aligned migration of melanoma cells was accompanied by long-range regulation of cytoskeletal remodeling that show anisotropic stiffening in the direction of fiber orientation suggestive of a positive feedback between ECM fiber alignment and forces exerted by cancer cells. Taken together, our findings suggest that the invasive spread of cancer cells can be defined by complex interplay with the surrounding matrix, during which they both modify the matrix and use the matrix alignment as a persistent migration cue, leading to more extensive and rapid invasive spread.
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