The human embryonic fibroblasts used in this study show pronounced inhibition of growth when reaching a critical cell density. High cell density and growth inhibition has previously been mimicked by the addition of glutaraldehyde-fixed cells or of isolated plasma membranes to sparsely seeded proliferating fibroblasts (Wieser, R. J., R. Heck, and F. Oesch, 1985, Exp. Cell Res., 158:493-499). In this report, we describe the successful solubilization of the growth-inhibiting glycoproteins and their covalent coupling to silicabeads (10 microns), which had been derivatized with 3-isothiocyanatopropyltriethoxysilane. The beads, bearing the plasma membrane proteins, were added to sparsely seeded, actively proliferating fibroblasts, and growth was measured by the determination of cell number or of incorporation of [3H]thymidine into DNA. The growth was inhibited in a concentration-dependent manner, whereby 50% inhibition was achieved with 0.3 micrograms of immobilized protein added to 5 X 10(3) cells. Terminal galactose residues of plasma membrane glycoproteins with N-glycosydically bound carbohydrates were responsible for the inhibition of growth. Dense cultures of human fibroblasts are characterized by an accelerated synthesis of procollagen type III. We have found that this cellular response can also be induced by the addition of immobilized plasma membrane glycoproteins to sparsely seeded cells. These observations support the conclusion that the addition of immobilized plasma membrane glycoproteins to sparsely seeded fibroblasts mimics the situation occurring at high cell density. These results show that cell-cell contacts via plasma membrane glycoproteins carrying terminal galactose residues are important for the regulation of the proliferation of cultured human fibroblasts and presumably of the accelerated synthesis of collagen type III.

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