Mesenchymal cell migration through a three-dimensional (3D) matrix typically involves major matrix remodeling. The direction of matrix deformation occurs locally in all three dimensions, which cannot be measured by current techniques. To probe the local, 3D, real-time deformation of a collagen matrix during tumor cell migration, we developed an assay whereby matrix-embedded beads are tracked simultaneously in all three directions with high resolution. To establish a proof of principle, we investigated patterns of collagen I matrix deformation near fibrosarcoma cells in the absence and presence of inhibitors of matrix metalloproteinases and acto-myosin contractility. Our results indicate that migrating cells show patterns of local matrix deformation toward the cell that are symmetric in magnitude with respect to the axis of cell movement. In contrast, patterns of matrix release from the cell are asymmetric: the matrix is typically relaxed first at the back of the cell, allowing forward motion, and then at the cell's leading edge. Matrix deformation in regions of the matrix near the cell's leading edge is elastic and mostly reversible, but induces irreversible matrix rupture events near the trailing edge. Our results also indicate that matrix remodeling spatially correlates with protrusive activity. This correlation is mediated by myosin II and Rac1, and eliminated after inhibition of pericellular proteolysis or ROCK. We have developed an assay based on high-resolution 3D multiple-particle tracking that allows us to probe local matrix remodeling during mesenchymal cell migration through a 3D matrix and simultaneously monitor protrusion dynamics.
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