Suzanne Ponik, PhD

Position title: Assistant Professor, Department of Cell and Regenerative Biology


Phone: 608-265-2398

4555 WIMR
1111 Highland Ave

Lab Website
Ponik Lab
Suzanne Ponik

Research Interests

My group is interested in understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying breast cancer risk due to breast density. Patients with mammographically dense breast tissue have a four to six-fold increased risk of developing breast carcinomas. In fact, 1/3 of all breast cancer cases are attributed to breast density, making it one of the greatest risk factors for carcinoma. Increased breast density is associated with a significant increase in the deposition of extracellular matrix (ECM) components, most notably the protein, collagen. We have developed in vitro and in vivo model systems to understand why increased breast density results in an increased risk for developing breast carcinoma. Additionally, our group uses multiphoton microscopy and intravital imaging approaches to characterize the collagen structure surrounding tumors so that we can better understand the physical relationship between cells and the collagen fibers found in breast tissue.

We are particularly interested in molecular signaling events related to cell interactions with the ECM. During oncogenic transformation, normal interactions with the ECM are profoundly altered, resulting in cells that lose their polarization and differentiation, lose anchorage dependent growth control, and acquire a migratory, invasive phenotype. Further, we have identified an overall increase in inflammatory signals in tumors that arise in a collagen dense microenvironment. Together, these data demonstrate that collagen density creates an invasive, inflammatory tumor microenvironment leading to enhanced disease progression. We are interested in understanding how physical changes in the ECM determine cell phenotype and signaling related to the recruitment, differentiation and polarization of cells in the tumor microenvironment.

Selected Publications

Find publications on PubMed

  1. Szulczewski JM, Inman DR, Proestaki M, Notbohm J, Burkel BM, and Ponik SM. Directional      Cues in the Tumor Microenvironment due to Cell Contraction against Aligned Collagen Fibers. Acta Biomaterialia, Volume 129, 15 July 2021, Pages 96-109
  2. Proestaki M, Burkel BM, Galles EE, Ponik SM, Notbohm J. Effect of matrix heterogeneity on cell mechanosensing. Soft Matter. 2021 Jun 14. doi: 10.1039/d1sm00312g. Online ahead of print.PMID: 34125129
  3. Knott SJ, Brown KA, Josyer H, Carr A, Inman D, Jin S, Friedl A, Ponik SM, Ge Y. Photocleavable Surfactant-Enabled Extracellular Matrix Proteomics.Anal Chem. 2020 Dec 15;92(24):15693-15698. PMID: 33232116
  4. Hoffmann EJ, Ponik SM. Biomechanical Contributions to Macrophage Activation in the Tumor Microenvironment. Front Oncol. 2020;10:787. eCollection 2020. Review. PubMed Central PMCID: PMC7251173.
  5. Lugo-Cintrón KM, Gong MM, Ayuso JM, Tomko LA, Beebe DJ, Virumbrales-Muñoz M, Ponik  Breast Fibroblasts and ECM Components Modulate Breast Cancer Cell Migration Through the Secretion of MMPs in a 3D Microfluidic Co-Culture Model. Cancers (Basel). 2020 May 6;12(5). PMCID: PMC7281408.
  6. Jallow F, O’Leary KA, Rugowski DE, Guerrero JF, Ponik SM, Schuler LA. Dynamic interactions between the extracellular matrix and estrogen activity in progression of ER+ breast cancer. 2019 Oct;38(43):6913-6925. doi: 10.1038/s41388-019-0941-0. PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6814534.
  7. Tomko,LA, Hill RC, Barrett A, Szulczewski JM, Conklin MW, Eliceiri KW, Keely PJ, Hansen KC, Ponik SM. Targeted matrisome analysis identifies thrombospondin-2 and tenascin-C in aligned collagen stroma from invasive breast carcinoma. Sci Rep.2018 Aug 28;8(1):12941  PMCID: PMC6113240