Fareeda Elinam Abu-Juam | 2024 I.S. Symposium

Fareeda Abu-Juam head shot

Name: Fareeda Elinam Abu-Juam
Title: Probing The Relationship Between Partial Epithelial-to-Mesenchymal Transition and Cell Shape in Epithelial Cells
Major: Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
Minor: Computer Science
Advisors: Erzsébet Regan; James West (second reader)

Metastatic disease causes 90% of cancer-related deaths. The metastatic potential of cancer cells is increased by their ability to undergo partial epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (pEMT), which is hard to characterize due to the hybrid morphologies that result. Here, we describe an image analysis workflow, using CellProfiler, and k-means clustering to segment images of epithelial cells in 2D, extract physical information and groups cells based on extracted features. This was performed on images stained with molecular regulators of EMT to determine whether stable clusters of cells could be identified based on cell shape in conjunction with the cell’s biophysical environment. To infer the latter, we focused on cell density and contact between cells. Our pipeline identified stable cell populations in hybrid-approximate E/M states when treated with TGF-beta and shifts towards epithelial morphologies for cells with high levels of cell-to-cell contact. Cells treated with TNF-alpha were responsive to changes in cell density and either epithelial, hybrid or mesenchymal morphologies were dictated primarily by their surroundings. We have found that untreated cells’ morphologies are strongly responsive to local density. Lastly, findings have shown that cells will cluster best into groups most defined by their biophysical environment. These findings show that the biophysical environment can drive cells towards hybrid E/M states and that our method can be utilized to recognize these changes. Further work would capitalize on identifying stronger correlations between cell shape and EMT effectors such as transcription factors, E-cadherin localization, or epithelial micro-RNAs and ultimately revealing more about the mechanisms of EMT.

Posted in Symposium 2024 on April 24, 2024.