Characterization of the physical properties of tumor-derived spheroids reveals critical insights for pre-clinical studies.


ITAV, CNRS, UT3, Université de Toulouse, Toulouse, France. [Email]


Three-dimensional spheroids are widely used as cancer models to study tumor cell proliferation and to evaluate new anticancer drugs. Growth-induced stress (i.e., stress that persists in tumors after external loads removal) influences tumor growth and resistance to treatment. However, it is not clear whether spheroids recapitulate the tumor physical properties. Here, we demonstrated experimentally and with the support of mathematical models that, like tumors, spheroids accumulate growth-induced stress. Moreover, we found that this stress is lower in spheroids made of 5,000 cancer cells and grown for 2 days than in spheroids made of 500 cancer cells and grown for 6 days. These two culture conditions associated with different growth-induced stress levels also had different effects on the spheroid shape (using light sheet microscopy) and surface topography and stiffness (using scanning electron microscopy and atomic force microscopy). Finally, the response to irinotecan was different in the two spheroid types. Taken together, our findings bring new insights into the relationship between the spheroid physical properties and their resistance to antitumor treatment that should be taken into account by the experimenters when assessing new therapeutic agents using in vitro 3D models or when comparing studies from different laboratories.

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