The widely used in vitro invasion assays for head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) are wound healing, transwell, and organotypic assays. However, these are still lab-intensive and time-consuming tasks. For the rapid detection and high throughput screening of invasiveness in 3D condition, we propose a novel spheroid invasion assay using commercially available pillar platform system.
Using the pillar-based spheroid invasion assay, migration and invasion was evaluated in three patient-derived cells (PDCs) of HNSCC. Immunofluorescence of live cells was used for the quantitative measurement of migratory and invaded cells attached to the pillar. Expression of epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT)-related gene (snai1/2) was measured by qRT-PCR. We also tested the impact of drug treatments (cisplatin, docetaxel) on the changes in the invasive phenotype.
All PDCs successfully formed spheroid at 4 days and can be measured invasiveness within 7 days. Intriguingly, one PDC (#1) obtained from the advanced stage showed robust migration, invasion and higher transcription of snai1/2, compared with the other two PDCs. Furthermore, the invasion ratio of the control spheroids was about 70% while the invasion ratios of drug-treated spheroids were lower than 50%, and the difference showed statistical significance (p < 0.01).
The presented spheroid invasion assay using pillar array could be useful for the evaluation of cancer cell behavior and physiology in response to diverse therapeutic drugs.

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