The role of extracellular matrix modification and signaling in cancer progression is an increasingly recognized avenue for the progression of the disease. Previous study of field effect carcinogenesis with Inverse Spectroscopic Optical Coherence Tomography (ISOCT) has revealed pronounced changes in the nanoscale-sensitive mass fractal dimension D measured from field effect tissue when compared to healthy tissue. However, the origin of this difference in tissue ultrastructure in field effect carcinogenesis has remained poorly understood.
Here, we present findings supporting the idea that enzymatic crosslinking of the extracellular matrix is an effect that presents at the earliest stages of carcinogenesis. We use a model of collagen gel with crosslinking induced by lysyl oxidase (LOXL4) to recapitulate the difference in D previously reported from healthy and cancerous tissue biopsies. Furthermore, STORM imaging of this collagen gel model verifies the morphologic effects of enzymatic crosslinking at length scales as small as 40 nm, close to the previously reported lower length scale sensitivity threshold of 35 nm for ISOCT. Analysis of the autocorrelation function from STORM images of collagen gels and subsequent fitting to the Whittle-Matérn correlation function shows a similar effect of LOXL4 on D from collagen measured with ISOCT and STORM. We extend this to mass spectrometric study of tissue to directly measure concentrations of collagen crosslink residues. The validation of ISOCT as a viable tool for non-invasive rapid quantification of collagen ultrastructure lends it to study other physiological phenomena involving ECM restructuring such as atherosclerotic plaque screening or cervical ripening during pregnancy.