Induction of the neutral proteinase, collagenase, is a marker for a specific switch in gene expression observed in rabbit synovial fibroblasts. A variety of agents, including 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate, cytochalasins B and D, trypsin, chymotrypsin, poly(2-hydroxyethylmethacrylate), and trifluoperazine induced this change in gene expression. Induction of collagenase by these agents was always correlated with a marked alteration in cell morphology, although the cells remained adherent to the culture dishes. The amount of collagenase induced was positively correlated with the degree of shape change produced by a given concentration and, to some extent, with the duration of treatment. Altered cell morphology was required only during the first few hours of treatment with inducing agents; after this time collagenase synthesis continued for up to 6 d even when agents were removed and normal flattened cell morphology was regained. All agents that altered cell morphology also produced a characteristic switch in protein secretion phenotype, characterized by the induction of procollagenase (Mr 53,000 and 57,000) and a neutral metalloproteinase (Mr 51,000), which accounted for approximately 25% and 15% of the protein secreted, respectively. Secretion of another neutral proteinase, plasminogen activator, did not correlate with increased collagenase secretion. In contrast, synthesis and secretion of a number of other polypeptides, including the extracellular matrix proteins, collagen and fibronectin, were concomitantly decreased. That changes in cell shape correlated with a program of gene expression manifested by both degradation and synthesis of extracellular macromolecules may have broad implications in development, repair, and pathologic conditions.

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