Loss of function of the tumor suppressor p53 is known to increase the rate of migration of cells transiting the narrow pores of the traditional Boyden chamber assay. Here by contrast we investigate how p53 impacts the rate of cellular migration within a 2D confluent cell layer and a 3D collagen-embedded multicellular spheroid. We use two human carcinoma cell lines, the bladder carcinoma EJ and the colorectal carcinoma HCT116. In the confluent 2-D cell layer, for both EJ and HCT cells the migratory speeds and effective diffusion coefficients for the p53 null cells were significantly smaller than in p53-expressing cells. Compared to p53 expressers, p53-null cells exhibited more organized cortical actin rings together with reduced front-rear cell polarity. Furthermore, loss of p53 caused cells to exert smaller traction forces upon their substrates, and reduced formation of cryptic lamellipodia. In the 3D multicellular spheroid, loss of p53 consistently reduced collective cellular migration into surrounding collagen matrix. As regards the role of p53 in cellular migration, extrapolation from the Boyden chamber assay to other cellular microenvironments is seen to be fraught even in terms of the sign of the effect. Together, these paradoxical results show that the effects of p53 on cellular migration are context-dependent.
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