Morphological, qualitative observations allow pathologists to correlate the shape the cells acquire with the progressive, underlying neoplastic transformation they are experienced. Cell morphology, indeed, roughly scales with malignancy. A quantitative parameter for characterizing complex irregular structures is the Normalized Bending Energy (NBE). NBE provides a global feature for shape characterization correspondent to the amount of energy needed to transform the specific shape under analysis into its lowest energy state. We hypothesized that a chemotherapy resistant cancer cell line would experience a significant change in its shape, and that such a modification might be quantified by means of NBE parameterization. We checked out the usefulness of a mathematical algorithm to distinguish wild and 5-fluorouracil (5-FU)-resistant colon cancer HCT-8 cells (HCT-8FUres). NBE values, as well as cellular and molecular parameters, were recorded in both cell populations. Results demonstrated that acquisition of drug resistance is accompanied by statistically significant morphological changes in cell membrane, as well as in biological parameters. Namely, NBE increased progressively meanwhile cells become more resistant to increasing 5-FU concentrations. These data indicate how tight the relationships between morphology and phenotype is, and they support the idea to follow a cell transition toward a drug-resistant phenotype by means of morphological monitoring.
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