Research Article: Measure and characterization of the forces exerted by growing multicellular spheroids using microdevice arrays

Date Published: May 23, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Laurene Aoun, Stanislas Larnier, Pierre Weiss, Martine Cazales, Ariane Herbulot, Bernard Ducommun, Christophe Vieu, Valérie Lobjois, Assad Anshuman Oberai.


Growing multicellular spheroids recapitulate many features of expanding microtumours, and therefore they are an attractive system for biomechanical studies. Here, we report an original approach to measure and characterize the forces exerted by proliferating multicellular spheroids. As force sensors, we used high aspect ratio PDMS pillars arranged as a ring that supports a growing breast tumour cell spheroid. After optical imaging and determination of the force application zones, we combined 3D reconstruction of the shape of each deformed PDMS pillar with the finite element method to extract the forces responsible for the experimental observation. We found that the force exerted by growing spheroids ranges between 100nN and 300nN. Moreover, the exerted force was dependent on the pillar stiffness and increased over time with spheroid growth.

Partial Text

Sensing compression and tension forces (i.e., mechanosensing) is an important component of cell physiology. Changes in mechanical homeostasis within tissues are often observed during tumour growth. Solid tumour growth is associated with stiffening of the tumour tissue due to cell proliferation and modification of the extracellular matrix components. Such tissue stiffening involves the generation of mechanical forces that accumulate within the growing tumour and that, in turn, are applied on and deform the surrounding tissue [1, 2]. Besides genetic alterations and biochemical signals, these mechanical forces also contribute to tumour progression and resistance to treatment. Several reports show that changes in mechanical properties can modulate tumour cell behaviour by influencing their proliferation, migration and invasion properties [3–9]. Moreover, Jain and collaborators demonstrated that these mechanical forces also induce vessel compression and increase the interstitial fluid pressure, ultimately affecting drug delivery [10]. Despite their crucial role, only few experimental methods are available to measure the forces generated by growing solid tumours or by multicellular tumour spheroids, an in vitro model that recapitulates the 3D tumour organization in vitro [3, 10, 11]. Moreover, it is still not clear how the forces generated by growing solid tumours vary depending on the microenvironment stiffness and over time.

We report here the investigation and characterization of the mechanical forces produced by growing multicellular tumour cell spheroids using microdevices made of high aspect ratio PDMS pillars that act as force sensors. Our approach is based on the experimental measurement of pillar deflection, assessed using 3D microscopy and reconstruction of the shape of the deformed device, as well as on FEM modelling to determine the forces responsible for the observed deformation.




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