Concentric gel system to study the biophysical role of matrix microenvironment on 3D cell migration

N.A. Kurniawan, P.K. Chaudhuri, C.T. Lim

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The ability of cells to migrate is crucial in a wide variety of cell functions throughout life from embryonic development and wound healing to tumor and cancer metastasis. Despite intense research efforts, the basic biochemical and biophysical principles of cell migration are still not fully understood, especially in the physiologically relevant three-dimensional (3D) microenvironments. Here, we describe an in vitro assay designed to allow quantitative examination of 3D cell migration behaviors. The method exploits the cell’s mechanosensing ability and propensity to migrate into previously unoccupied extracellular matrix (ECM). We use the invasion of highly invasive breast cancer cells, MDA-MB-231, in collagen gels as a model system. The spread of cell population and the migration dynamics of individual cells over weeks of culture can be monitored using live-cell imaging and analyzed to extract spatiotemporally-resolved data. Furthermore, the method is easily adaptable for diverse extracellular matrices, thus offering a simple yet powerful way to investigate the role of biophysical factors in the microenvironment on cell migration.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere52735
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE)
Issue number98
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Bioengineering
  • Issue 98
  • cell migration
  • collagen
  • biomechanics
  • 3D cell culture
  • live-cell imaging
  • cancer invasion
  • metastasis
  • extracellular matrix
  • pore size
  • biopolymer
  • cytoskeleton
  • confocal microscopy


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