Spatio-temporal modeling and live-cell imaging of proteolysis in the 4D microenvironment of breast cancer

  • Kyungmin Ji
  • Mansoureh Sameni
  • Kingsley Osuala
  • Kamiar Moin
  • Raymond R. Mattingly
  • Bonnie F. SloaneEmail author


Cells grown in three dimensions (3D) within natural extracellular matrices or synthetic scaffolds more closely recapitulate the phenotype of those cells within tissues in regard to normal developmental and pathobiological processes. This includes degradation of the surrounding stroma as the cells migrate and invade through the matrices. As 3D cultures of tumor cells predict efficacy of, and resistance to, a wide variety of cancer therapies, we employed tissue-engineering approaches to establish 3D pathomimetic avatars of human breast cancer cells alone and in the context of both their cellular and pathochemical microenvironments. We have shown that we can localize and quantify key parameters of malignant progression by live-cell imaging of the 3D avatars over time (4D). One surrogate for changes in malignant progression is matrix degradation, which can be localized and quantified by our live-cell proteolysis assay. This assay is predictive of changes in spatio-temporal and dynamic interactions among the co-cultured cells and changes in viability, proliferation, and malignant phenotype. Furthermore, our live-cell proteolysis assay measures the effect of small-molecule inhibitors of proteases and kinases, neutralizing or blocking antibodies to cytokines and photodynamic therapy on malignant progression. We suggest that 3D/4D pathomimetic avatars in combination with our live-cell proteolysis assays will be a useful preclinical screening platform for cancer therapies. Our ultimate goal is to develop 3D/4D avatars from an individual patient’s cancer in which we can screen “personalized medicine” therapies using changes in proteolytic activity to quantify therapeutic efficacy.


Spatio-temporal modeling Proteolysis Live-cell imaging 3D cultures 


Funding information

This work was supported in part by National Institute of Health grants R01 CA131990 (RRM and BFS) and R21 CA1759331 (BFS), a Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program Postdoctoral Fellowship Award (W81XWH-12-1-0024; KO), and an award from the President’s Research Enhancement Program of Wayne State University (BFS). Imaging was performed in the Microscopy, Imaging and Cytometry Resources Core (KM), which is supported, in part, by National Institutes of Health Center grant P30 CA022453 to the Karmanos Cancer Institute at Wayne State University, and the Perinatology Research Branch of the National Institute of Child Health and Development at Wayne State University.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PharmacologyWayne State UniversityDetroitUSA

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