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DOI: 10.1101/2023.03.16.532909

Can a bulky glycocalyx promote catch bonding in early integrin adhesion? Perhaps a bit

Many types of cancer overexpress bulky glycoproteins to form a thick glycocalyx layer. The glycocalyx physically separates the cell from its surroundings, but recent work has shown that the glycocalyx can paradoxically increase adhesion to soft tissues and therefore promote the metastasis of cancer cells. This surprising phenomenon occurs because the glycocalyx forces adhesion molecules (called integrins) on the cell's surface into clusters. These integrin clusters have cooperative effects that allow them to form stronger adhesions to surrounding tissues than would be possible with equivalent numbers of un-clustered integrins. These cooperative mechanisms have been intensely scrutinized in recent years; a more nuanced understanding of the biophysical underpinnings of glycocalyx-mediated adhesion could uncover therapeutic targets, deepen our general understanding of cancer metastasis, and elucidate general biophysical processes that extend far beyond the realm of cancer research. This work examines the hypothesis that the glycocalyx has the additional effect of increasing mechanical tension experienced by clustered integrins. Integrins function as mechanosensors that undergo catch bonding - meaning the application of moderate tension increases integrin bond lifetime relative to the lifetime of integrins experiencing low tension. In this work, a three-state chemomechanical catch bond model of integrin tension is used to investigate catch bonding in the presence of a bulky glycocalyx. This modeling suggests that a bulky glycocalyx can lightly trigger catch bonding, increasing the bond lifetime of integrins at adhesion edges by up to 100%. The total number of integrin-ligand bonds within an adhesion is predicted to increase by up to ~60% for certain adhesion geometries. Catch bonding is predicted to decrease the activation energy of adhesion formation by ~1-4 kBT, which translates to a ~3-50x increase in the kinetic rate of adhesion nucleation. This work reveals that integrin mechanic and clustering likely both contribute to glycocalyx-mediated metastasis.