KNRK cells (a normal rat kidney [NRK] cell line transformed by Kirsten murine sarcoma virus) in sparse culture exhibit a highly ruffled morphology, but the cause of this ruffling is unknown. In this study, we have demonstrated that the continuous, excess ruffling on KNRK cells is caused by one or more soluble agents secreted by the KNRK cells themselves. To do this study, an assay for ruffling responses in live cell cultures was defined, and its reproducibility was demonstrated. This assay permitted observation of the kinetics of ruffling responses (percentage of cells ruffled as a function of time after stimulation). This method was used to compare the kinetics of ruffling induced by insulin, epidermal growth factor, fibroblast growth factor, glucose, and KNRK cell conditioned medium (CM). Ruffling was elicited on NRK cells by each of the polypeptide mitogens and nutrients, but, in each case, this ruffling subsided spontaneously within an hour. CM from KNRK cells also caused ruffling movements on untransformed NRK cells, but this ruffling continued for at least 20 h. This response was largely blocked by premixing the KNRK cell CM with rabbit IgG against rat transforming growth factor, type alpha, (TGF-alpha). KNRK cells made quiescent (ruffle free) by a pH shift (from 7.4 to 8.4) responded to insulin, glucose, and KNRK cell CM with kinetics similar to those observed for each of these factors in NRK cells. The unusual feature for the ruffle-inducing agent(s) produced by KNRK cells was that this activity was not subject, in either NRK or KNRK cells, to the cellular off-regulation that limits the responses to insulin or glucose. Thus, the continuous ruffling of KNRK cells is caused by their own unregulated ruffle-inducing agent or agents, which appear to include TGF-alpha. This work also demonstrates that kinetic analysis of cellular responses to exogenous factors can provide new insights into the regulatory mechanisms involved in the normal limitation of these responses.

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