Human plasma has been demonstrated to contain factors that induce the sequential expression of nonterminal and terminal adipocyte differentiation in 3T3 T mesenchymal stem cells. We now report the development of methods for the isolation of purified populations of nonterminally differentiated cells and terminally differentiated cells, and we show that it is possible to experimentally induce transition from the nonterminal to the terminal state of differentiation. With this model system it is therefore now possible to examine the biological and molecular processes associated with the terminal event in differentiation, i.e., the irreversible loss of proliferative potential. In this regard, we demonstrate that transition from the nonterminal to terminal state of differentiation is a complex metabolic process that consists of at least two steps and that this process can be triggered by pulse exposure to an inducer for approximately 12 h but that approximately 24-48 h is required for the process to be completed. The data also establish that induction of the terminal event in differentiation requires protein synthesis but not RNA and DNA synthesis. These and additional results suggest that loss of proliferative potential associated with the terminal event in cellular differentiation is a distinct regulatory process, and we suggest that defects in this regulatory process may be of etiological significance in the pathogenesis of specific human diseases, especially cancer.

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