Cells penetrating into confinement undergo mesenchymal-to-amoeboid transition. The topographical features of the microenvironment expose cells to different hydraulic resistance levels. How cells respond to hydraulic resistance is unknown. We show that the cell phenotype shifts from amoeboid to mesenchymal upon increasing resistance. By combining automated morphological tracking and wavelet analysis along with fluorescence recovery after photobleaching (FRAP), we found an oscillatory phenotypic transition that cycles from blebbing to short, medium, and long actin network formation, and back to blebbing. Elevated hydraulic resistance promotes focal adhesion maturation and long actin filaments, thereby reducing the period required for amoeboid-to-mesenchymal transition. The period becomes independent of resistance upon blocking the mechanosensor TRPM7. Mathematical modeling links intracellular calcium oscillations with actomyosin turnover and force generation and recapitulates experimental data. We identify hydraulic resistance as a critical physical cue controlling cell phenotype and present an approach for connecting fluorescent signal fluctuations to morphological oscillations.
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