Simulating the mechanical coupling between a tumor and its extracellular matrix environment

Manning group participants:

  • Amanda Parker


  • Jen Schwarz (SU)
  • Lisa Manning (SU)
  • Cristina Marchetti (UCSB)

Tissues are surrounded by networks of macromolecules called extracellular matrices, or ECMs. A tissue’s ECM regulates its behavior, including the proliferation, migration, and death of its cells. The ECM does this primarily through mechanical coupling to the tissue cells using cell-ECM adhesions, like integrins. This mechanical coupling allows cells to probe and respond to the stiffness of their environment and, in healthy tissue, a mechanical equilibrium is achieved between cells and the ECM. However, in cancer, tumors and their ECMs have been observed to be stiffer than normal and there seems to be a breakdown in the normal responses to mechanical cues, perhaps facilitating abnormal tumor cell proliferation and metastasis. Using a computational model, we are exploring how a simple mechanical interaction between a tissue and its ECM may promote changes in tissue rigidity, ECM rigidity, tumor morphology and ECM structure.