Measuring mechanical cues for modeling the stromal matrix in 3D cell cultures

Linda Srbova, Ossi Arasalo, Arttu J. Lehtonen, Juho Pokki*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

15 Downloads (Pure)


A breast-cancer tumor develops within a stroma, a tissue where a complex extracellular matrix surrounds cells, mediating the cancer progression through biomechanical and -chemical cues. Current materials partially mimic the stromal matrix in 3D cell cultures but methods for measuring the mechanical properties of the matrix at cell-relevant-length scales and stromal-stiffness levels are lacking. Here, to address this gap, we developed a characterization approach that employs probe-based microrheometry and Bayesian modeling to quantify length-scale-dependent mechanics and mechanical heterogeneity as in the stromal matrix. We examined the interpenetrating network (IPN) composed of alginate scaffolds (for adjusting mechanics) and type-1 collagen (a stromal-matrix constituent). We analyzed viscoelasticity: absolute-shear moduli (stiffness/elasticity) and phase angles (viscous and elastic characteristics). We determined the relationship between microrheometry and rheometry information. Microrheometry reveals lower stiffness at cell-relevant scales, compared to macroscale rheometry, with dependency on the length scale (10 to 100 μm). These data show increasing IPN stiffness with crosslinking until saturation (≃15 mM of Ca2+). Furthermore, we report that IPN stiffness can be adjusted by modulating collagen concentration and interconnectivity (by polymerization temperature). The IPNs are heterogeneous structurally (in SEM) and mechanically. Interestingly, increased alginate crosslinking changes IPN heterogeneity in stiffness but not in phase angle, until the saturation. In contrast, such changes are undetectable in alginate scaffolds. Our nonlinear viscoelasticity analysis at tumor-cell-exerted strains shows that only the softer IPNs stiffen with strain, like the stromal-collagen constituent. In summary, our approach can quantify the stromal-matrix-related viscoelasticity and is likely applicable to other materials in 3D culture.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3483-3498
Number of pages16
JournalSoft Matter
Issue number16
Early online date8 Apr 2024
Publication statusPublished - 8 Apr 2024
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


Dive into the research topics of 'Measuring mechanical cues for modeling the stromal matrix in 3D cell cultures'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this