Growth factor over-production by responsive cells might contribute to their autonomous proliferation as well as their acquisition of a transformed phenotype in culture. Basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) has been shown to induce transient changes in cell behavior that resemble those encountered in transformed cells. In addition, several types of human tumor cells have been shown to produce bFGF. To determine directly the role that bFGF might play in the induction of the transformed phenotype, we have introduced a human bFGF cDNA expression vector into baby hamster kidney-derived (BHK-21) fibroblasts. One of the BHK transfectants, termed clone 19, expresses the bFGF mRNA and produces biologically active bFGF that accumulates to a high concentration inside the cells. These properties correlate with the ability of the cells to grow in serum-free medium without the addition of exogenous bFGF. Clone 19 cells also proliferated in soft agar, indicating that constitutive expression of the bFGF gene results in a loss of anchorage-dependent growth.

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