In this study, to model 3D chemotactic tumor-stroma invasion in vitro, we developed an innovative microfluidic chip allowing side-by-side positioning of 3D hydrogel-based matrices. We were able to (1) create a dual matrix architecture that extended in a continuous manner, thus allowing invasion from one 3D matrix to another, and (2) establish distinct regions of tumor and stroma cell/ECM compositions, with a clearly demarcated tumor invasion front, thus allowing us to quantitatively analyze progression of cancer cells into the stroma at a tissue or single-cell level. We showed significantly enhanced cancer cell invasion in response to a transient gradient of epidermal growth factor (EGF). 3D tracking at the single-cell level displayed increased migration speed and persistence. Subsequently, we analyzed changes in expression of EGF receptors, cell aspect ratio, and protrusive activity. These findings show the unique ability of our model to quantitatively analyze 3D chemotactic invasion, both globally by tracking the progression of the invasion front, and at the single-cell level by examining changes in cellular behavior and morphology using high-resolution imaging.
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