Document Type

Article

Abstract

Maintenance of cancer stem cells (CSCs) is regulated by the tumor microenvironment. Synthetic hydrogels provide the flexibility to design three-dimensional (3D) matrices to isolate and study individual factors in the tumor microenvironment. The objective of this work was to investigate the effect of matrix modulus on tumorsphere formation by breast cancer cells and maintenance of CSCs in an inert microenvironment without the interference of other factors. In that regard, 4T1 mouse breast cancer cells were encapsulated in inert polyethylene glycol diacrylate hydrogels and the effect of matrix modulus on tumorsphere formation and expression of CSC markers was investigated. The gel modulus had a strong effect on tumorsphere formation and the effect was bimodal. Tumorsphere formation and expression of CSC markers peaked after 8 days of culture. At day 8, as the matrix modulus was increased from 2.5 kPa to 5.3, 26.1, and 47.1 kPa, the average tumorsphere size changed from 37±6 μm to 57±6, 20±4, and 12±2 μm, respectively; cell number density in the gel changed from 0.8±0.1×105 cells/mL to 1.7±0.2×105, 0.4±0.1×105, and 0.2±0.1×105 cells/mL after initial encapsulation of 0.14×105 cells/mL; and the expression of CD44 breast CSC marker changed from 17±4-fold to 38±9-, 3±1-, and 2±1-fold increase compared with the initial level. Similar results were obtained with MCF7 human breast carcinoma cells. Mouse 4T1 and human MCF7 cells encapsulated in the gel with 5.3 kPa modulus formed the largest tumorspheres and highest density of tumorspheres, and had highest expression of breast CSC markers CD44 and ABCG2. The inert polyethylene glycol hydrogel can be used as a model-engineered 3D matrix to study the role of individual factors in the tumor microenvironment on tumorigenesis and maintenance of CSCs without the interference of other factors.

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