Cell adhesion heterogeneity reinforces tumour cell dissemination: novel insights from a mathematical model

David Reher, Barbara Klink, Andreas Deutsch, Anja Voss-Böhme

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Cancer cell invasion, dissemination, and metastasis have been linked to an epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) of individual tumour cells. During EMT, adhesion molecules like E-cadherin are downregulated and the decrease of cell-cell adhesion allows tumour cells to dissociate from the primary tumour mass. This complex process depends on intracellular cues that are subject to genetic and epigenetic variability, as well as extrinsic cues from the local environment resulting in a spatial heterogeneity in the adhesive phenotype of individual tumour cells. Here, we use a novel mathematical model to study how adhesion heterogeneity, influenced by intrinsic and extrinsic factors, affects the dissemination of tumour cells from an epithelial cell population. The model is a multiscale cellular automaton that couples intracellular adhesion receptor regulation with cell-cell adhesion.

RESULTS: Simulations of our mathematical model indicate profound effects of adhesion heterogeneity on tumour cell dissemination. In particular, we show that a large variation of intracellular adhesion receptor concentrations in a cell population reinforces cell dissemination, regardless of extrinsic cues mediated through the local cell density. However, additional control of adhesion receptor concentration through the local cell density, which can be assumed in healthy cells, weakens the effect. Furthermore, we provide evidence that adhesion heterogeneity can explain the remarkable differences in adhesion receptor concentrations of epithelial and mesenchymal phenotypes observed during EMT and might drive early dissemination of tumour cells.

CONCLUSIONS: Our results suggest that adhesion heterogeneity may be a universal trigger to reinforce cell dissemination in epithelial cell populations. This effect can be at least partially compensated by a control of adhesion receptor regulation through neighbouring cells. Accordingly, our findings explain how both an increase in intra-tumour adhesion heterogeneity and the loss of control through the local environment can promote tumour cell dissemination.

REVIEWERS: This article was reviewed by Hanspeter Herzel, Thomas Dandekar and Marek Kimmel.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)18
Number of pages1
JournalBiology Direct
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 11 Aug 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Cellular automaton
  • EMT
  • Intercellular adhesion
  • Mathematical model
  • Metastasis
  • Tumour heterogeneity
  • Tumour invasion


Dive into the research topics of 'Cell adhesion heterogeneity reinforces tumour cell dissemination: novel insights from a mathematical model'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this