Matrix stiffness is a mechanical characteristic of the extracellular matrix (ECM) that increases from the tumor core to the tumor periphery in a gradient pattern in a variety of solid tumors and can promote proliferation, invasion, metastasis, drug resistance, and recurrence. Cancer stem cells (CSCs) are a rare subpopulation of tumor cells with self-renewal, asymmetric cell division, and differentiation capabilities. CSCs are thought to be responsible for metastasis, tumor recurrence, chemotherapy resistance, and consequently poor clinical outcomes. Evidence suggests that matrix stiffness can activate receptors and mechanosensor/mechanoregulator proteins such as integrin, FAK, and YAP, modulating the characteristics of tumor cells as well as CSCs through different molecular signaling pathways. A deeper understanding of the effect of matrix stiffness on CSCs characteristics could lead to development of innovative cancer therapies. In this review, we discuss how the stiffness of the ECM is sensed by the cells and how the cells respond to this environmental change as well as the effect of matrix stiffness on CSCs characteristics and also the key malignant processes such as proliferation and EMT. Then, we specifically focus on how increased matrix stiffness affects CSCs in breast, lung, liver, pancreatic, and colorectal cancers. We also discuss how the molecules responsible for increased matrix stiffness and the signaling pathways activated by the enhanced stiffness can be manipulated as a therapeutic strategy for cancer.
Safaei, Sadegh; Sajed, Roya; Shariftabrizi, Ahmad; Dorafshan, Shima; Saeednejad Zanjani, Leili; Dehghan Manshadi, Masoumeh; Madjd, Zahra; and Ghods, Roya, "Tumor Matrix Stiffness Provides Fertile Soil for Cancer Stem Cells" (2023). Kimmel Cancer Center Papers, Presentations, and Grand Rounds. Paper 68.
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