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Open Access Highly Accessed Technical advance

A novel asymmetric 3D in-vitro assay for the study of tumor cell invasion

Vera Brekhman and Gera Neufeld*

Author Affiliations

Cancer Research and vascular Biology Center, The Bruce Rappaport Faculty of Medicine, Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, PO Box 9679, 1 Efron St, Haifa, 31096, Israel

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BMC Cancer 2009, 9:415  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-9-415

Published: 30 November 2009



The induction of tumor cell invasion is an important step in tumor progression. Due to the cost and slowness of in-vivo invasion assays, there is need for quantitative in-vitro invasion assays that mimic as closely as possible the tumor environment and in which conditions can be rigorously controlled.


We have established a novel asymmetric 3D in-vitro invasion assay by embedding a monolayer of tumor cells between two layers of collagen. The cells were then allowed to invade the upper and lower layers of collagen. To visualize invading cells the gels were sectioned perpendicular to the monolayer so that after seeding the monolayer appears as a thin line precisely defining the origin of invasion. The number of invading tumor cells, their proliferation rate, the distance they traverse and the direction of invasion could then be determined quantitatively.


The assay was used to compare the invasive properties of several tumor cell types and the results compare well with those obtained by previously described assays. Lysyl-oxidase like protein-2 (Loxl2) is a potent inducer of invasiveness. Using our assay we show for the first time that inhibition of endogenous Loxl2 expression in several types of tumor cells strongly inhibits their invasiveness. We also took advantage of the asymmetric nature of the assay in order to show that fibronectin enhances the invasiveness of breast cancer cells more potently than laminin. The asymmetric properties of the assay were also used to demonstrate that soluble factors derived from fibroblasts can preferentially attract invading breast cancer cells.


Our assay displays several advantages over previous invasion assays as it is allows the quantitative analysis of directional invasive behavior of tumor cells in a 3D environment mimicking the tumor microenvironment. It should be particularly useful for the study of the effects of components of the tumor microenvironment on tumor cell invasiveness.