We have examined the ability of primary adult rabbit skin cells to regulate collagenase production in vitro. Dermal cells constitutively produce collagenase in culture, and enzyme production by these cells can be influenced by epithelial cells. Co-culture with skin epidermal cells resulted in more enzyme production by dermal cells, whereas co-culture with corneal epithelial cells yielded less enzyme activity. Connective tissue cells from a different source, cornea, also produced collagenase when co-cultured with skin epidermal cells, although the stromal cells alone made no enzyme. The drug cytochalasin B had very little influence on collagenase production by dermal cells, either alone or in co-culture with epidermal cells, but did significantly potentiate enzyme production by corneal stromal cells responding to epidermal effector molecules. Epidermal-cell-conditioned medium from both fetal and adult rabbit skin was a potent source of stimulators (apparent mol wt 20,500 and 55,000) of connective-tissue-cell collagenase production. Stimulator production by epidermal cultures was cell density dependent. Optimal production of stimulators occurred in adult cultures containing 10(6) epidermal cells/ml of medium, and in fetal cultures containing 10(5) cells/ml. Inhibitors of connective tissue cell enzyme production were not detected in conditioned medium from either adult or fetal epidermal cells.

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