A biomechanical model for the transendothelial migration of cancer cells

S. M. Amin Arefi, Daria Tsvirkun, Claude Verdier and James J. Feng

Phys. Biol. 17, 036004 (2020)

Abstract - We propose a biomechanical model for the extravasation of a tumor cell (TC) through the endothelium of a blood vessel. Based on prior in vitro observations, we assume that the TC extends a protrusion between adjacent endothelial cells (ECs) that adheres to the basement membrane via focal adhesions. As the protrusion grows in size and branches out, the actomyosin contraction along the stress fibers inside the protrusion pulls the relatively rigid nucleus through the endothelial opening. We model the chemo-mechanics of the stress fibers and the focal adhesions by following the kinetics of the active myosin motors and high-affinity integrins, subject to mechanical feedback. This is incorporated into a finite-element simulation of the extravasation process, with the contractile force pulling the nucleus of the tumor cell against elastic resistance of the ECs. To account for the interaction between the TC nucleus and the endothelium, we consider two scenarios: solid-solid contact and lubrication by cytosol. The former gives a lower bound for the required contractile force to realize transmigration, while the latter provides a more realistic representation of the process. Using physiologically reasonable parameters, our model shows that the stress-fiber and focal-adhesion ensemble can produce a contractile force on the order of 70 nN, which is sufficient to deform the ECs and enable transmigration. Furthermore, we use an atomic force microscope to measure the resistant force on a human bladder cancer cell that is pushed through an endothelium cultured in vitro. The magnitude of the required force turns out to be in the range of 70—100 nN, comparable to the model predictions.