Congratulations to Matt Rubashkin and coauthors on their publication in Cancer Research!
Abstract: Extracellular matrix (ECM) stiffness induces focal adhesion assembly to drive malignant transformation and tumor metastasis. Nevertheless, how force alters focal adhesions to promote tumor progression remains unclear. Here, we explored the role of the focal adhesion protein vinculin, a force-activated mechanotransducer, in mammary epithelial tissue transformation and invasion. We found that ECM stiffness stabilizes the assembly of a vinculin–talin–actin scaffolding complex that facilitates PI3K-mediated phosphatidylinositol (3,4,5)-triphosphate phosphorylation. Using defined two- and three-dimensional matrices, a mouse model of mammary tumorigenesis with vinculin mutants, and a novel super resolution imaging approach, we established that ECM stiffness, per se, promotes the malignant progression of a mammary epithelium by activating and stabilizing vinculin and enhancing Akt signaling at focal adhesions. Our studies also revealed that vinculin strongly colocalizes with activated Akt at the invasive border of human breast tumors, where the ECM is stiffest, and we detected elevated mechanosignaling. Thus, ECM stiffness could induce tumor progression by promoting the assembly of signaling scaffolds, a conclusion underscored by the significant association we observed between highly expressed focal adhesion plaque proteins and malignant transformation across multiple types of solid cancer.