Metastasis is a complex process that requires cancer cells to adapt to diverse environments in the body. After they escape from the primary tumor, the cells embark on a long journey to colonize distant organs by migrating through a maze of three-dimensional tracks created by various anatomical structures. Such channels form between adjacent extracellular matrix fibers (collagen), or between nerves, muscles and their connective tissue. These channels represent the highways that cancerous cells use to move efficiently to different parts of the body.
During metastasis, important motor proteins and signaling molecules organize themselves asymmetrically along the front-to-rear cell axis in a phenomenon called cell polarity. This polarity establishes directionality and is essential for persistent cell migration. Although the importance of front-to-rear cell polarity is well understood, it is not known whether metastasizing cancer cells also exhibit dorsoventral polarity, or polarity along their top-to-bottom cell axis.
Dorsoventral polarity orients cells to the geometry of their environment. Once cells sense the geometry around them, they respond by altering their signaling and mode of migration. Emily Wisniewski and Panagiotis Mistriotis, under the direction of Konstantinos Konstantopoulos, along with other colleagues, sought to understand the role that dorsoventral polarity plays in cancer cell migration.