Cancer phenotypes are often associated with changes in the mechanical states of cells and their microenvironments. Numerous studies have established correlations between cancer cell malignancy and cell deformability at the single-cell level. The mechanical deformation of cells is required for the internalization of large colloidal particles. Compared to normal epithelial cells, cancer cells show higher capacities to distort their shapes during the engulfment of external particles, thus performing phagocytic-like processes more efficiently. This link between cell deformability and particle uptake suggests that the cell's adherence state may affect this particle uptake, as cells become stiffer when plated on a more rigid substrate and vice versa. Based on this, we hypothesized that cancer cells of the same origin, which are subjected to external mechanical cues through attachment to surfaces with varying rigidities, may express different capacities to uptake foreign particles. The effects of substrate rigidity on cancer cell uptake of inert particles (0.8 and 2.4 μm) were examined using surfaces with physiologically relevant rigidities (from 0.5 to 64 kPa). Our data demonstrate a wave-like ("meandering") dependence of cell uptake on the rigidity of the culture substrate explained by a superposition of opposing physical and biological effects. The uptake patterns were inversely correlated with the expression of phosphorylated paxillin, indicating that the initial passive particle absorbance is the primary limiting step toward complete uptake. Overall, our findings may provide a foundation for mechanical rationalization of particle uptake design.
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