Mechanical boundaries that define and regulate biological processes, such as cell-cell junctions and dense extracellular matrix networks, exist throughout the physiological landscape. During metastasis, cancer cells are able to invade across these barriers and spread to distant tissues. While transgressing boundaries is a necessary step for distal colonies to form, little is known about interface effects on cell behavior during invasion. Here we introduce a device and metric to assess cell transition effects across mechanical barriers. Using MDA-MB-231 cells, a highly metastatic breast adenocarcinoma cell line, our results demonstrate that dimensional modulation in confined spaces with mechanical barriers smaller than the cell nucleus can induce distinct invasion phases and elongated morphological states. Further investigations on the impact of microtubule stabilization and drug resistance reveal that taxol-treated cells have reduced ability in invading across tight spaces and lose their super-diffusive migratory state and taxol-resistant cells exhibit asymmetric cell division at barrier interfaces. These results illustrate that subnucleus-scaled confinement modulation can play a distinctive role in inducing behavioral responses in invading cells and can help reveal the mechanical elements of non-proteolytic invasion.
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