Shape in migration: Quantitative image analysis of migrating chemoresistant HCT-8 colon cancer cells

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Unsuccessful cytotoxic anticancer treatments may contribute to tumor morphologic instability and consequent tissue invasion, promoting the selection of a more malignant phenotype. Indeed, morphological changes have been demonstrated to be more pronounced in strongly vs. weakly metastatic cells.By means of normalized bending energy, we have previously quantitatively defined the link between cell shape modifications and the acquisition of a more malignant phenotype by 5-FU-resistant colon cancer cells (HCT-8FUres). Such changes were significantly correlated with an increase in motility speed. Herein, we propose a method to quantitatively analyze the shape of wild and chemoresistant HCT-8 migration front cells during wound healing assay. We evaluated the reliability of parameters (area/perimeter ratio [A/p], circularity, roundness, fractal dimension, and solidity) in describing the biological behavior of the two cell lines, enabling hence in distinguishing the chemoresistant line from the other one. We found solidity index the parameter that better described the difference between chemoresistant and wild cells. Moreover, solidity is able to capture the differences between chemoresistant and wild cells at each time point of the migration process. Indeed, motility speed was found to be inversely correlated with solidity, a quantitative index of cell deformability. Deformability is an outstanding hallmark of the process leading to metastatic spread; consequently, solidity may be considered a marker of acquired metastatic property.

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