How Tumor Cells Can Make Use of Interstitial Fluid Flow in a Strategy for Metastasis

  • Steinar EvjeEmail author
  • Jahn Otto Waldeland



The phenomenon of lymph node metastasis has been known for a long time. However, the underlying mechanism by which malignant tumor cells are able to break loose from the primary tumor site remains unclear. In particular, two competing fluid sensitive migration mechanisms have been reported in the experimental literature: (i) autologous chemotaxis (Shields et al. in Cancer Cell 11:526–538, 2007) which gives rise to downstream migration; (ii) an integrin-mediated and strain-induced upstream mechanism (Polacheck et al. in PNAS 108:11115–11120, 2011). How can these two competing mechanisms be used as a means for metastatic behavior in a realistic tumor setting? Excessive fluid flow is typically produced from leaky intratumoral blood vessels and collected by lymphatics in the peritumoral region giving rise to a heterogeneous fluid velocity field and a corresponding heterogeneous cell migration behavior, quite different from the experimental setup.


In order to shed light on this issue there is a need for tools which allow one to extrapolate the observed single cell behavior in a homogeneous microfluidic environment to a more realistic, higher-dimensional tumor setting. Here we explore this issue by using a computational multiphase model. The model has been trained with data from the experimental results mentioned above which essentially reflect one-dimensional behavior. We extend the model to an envisioned idealized two-dimensional tumor setting.


A main observation from the simulation is that the autologous chemotaxis migration mechanism, which triggers tumor cells to go with the flow in the direction of lymphatics, becomes much more aggressive and effective as a means for metastasis in the presence of realistic IF flow. This is because the outwardly directed IF flow generates upstream cell migration that possibly empowers small clusters of tumor cells to break loose from the primary tumor periphery. Without this upstream stress-mediated migration, autologous chemotaxis is inclined to move cells at the rim of the tumor in a homogeneous and collective, but space-demanding style. In contrast, inclusion of realistic IF flow generates upstream migration that allows two different aspects to be synthesized: maintain the coherency and solidity of the the primary tumor and at the same time cleave the outgoing waves of tumor cells into small clusters at the front that can move collectively in a more specific direction.


Cell-migration Multiphase flow Interstitial fluid Interstitial fluid pressure Lymphatic flow Vascular flow Autologous chemotaxis Chemokine Receptor 



We are grateful for highly instructive comments from the anonymous reviewers that helped improving certain parts of a first version of this manuscript. We also thank Tia R. Tidwell for useful input.

Conflict of interest

Steinar Evje and Jahn Otto Waldeland declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Biomedical Engineering Society 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Energy and PetroleumUniversity of StavangerStavangerNorway

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