Changes in cell shape are postulated to modulate gene expression during differentiation of a number of cell types, including rabbit synovial fibroblasts, which are inducible for expression of the zymogen form of the metalloendopeptidase, collagenase. In the work presented here, fibroblasts cultured on and within hydrated collagen gels were allowed to contract by release of the gels from the sides of the culture dish. Within 24 h of cell release, synthesis and secretion of procollagenase was initiated in the absence of any chemical manipulation. Fibroblasts grown in and on collagen also responded to 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate and cytochalasin B with morphologic change and induced procollagenase. However, colchicine, which altered morphology to varying degrees in cells on plastic, on collagen, and within collagen gels, did not induce procollagenase expression. In all cases, the enzyme was induced only after reorganization of polymerized actin, rather than after a change in cellular morphology per se. As a first approach to identifying other aspects of the stimulated phenotype that could affect collagen turnover, the expression of collagen and endogenous metalloproteinase inhibitors in relation to procollagenase secretion was investigated. Collagen secretion by fibroblasts decreased when procollagenase secretion was induced by the pharmacologic agents, but not when cells were stimulated by contraction on or within collagen gels. The expression of two endogenous inhibitors was not coordinately regulated with induction of procollagenase. Therefore, the extracellular matrix and the cellular actin cytoskeleton may transduce signals that modulate the tissue remodeling phenotype of fibroblasts.

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