Transforming growth factor beta (TGF-beta) is a polypeptide growth factor that affects the accumulation of extracellular matrix by many cell types. We have examined the ability of mouse mammary epithelial (NMuMG) cells to respond to TGF-beta and assessed the effect of the growth factor on the expression of their cell surface heparan sulfate/chondroitin sulfate hybrid proteoglycan. NMuMG cells respond maximally to 3 ng/ml TGF-beta and the response is consistent with occupancy of the type III receptor. However, cells that are polarized, as shown by sequestration of the cell surface PG at their basolateral surfaces, must have the growth factor supplied to that site for maximal response. Immunological quantification of proteoglycan core protein on treated cells suggests that the cells have an unchanging number of this proteoglycan at their cell surface. Nonetheless, metabolic labeling with radiosulfate shows a approximately 2.5-fold increase in 35SO4-glycosaminoglycans in this proteoglycan fraction, defined either by its lipophilic, antigenic, or cell surface properties. Kinetic studies indicate that the enhanced radiolabeling is due to augmented synthesis, rather than slower degradation. Analysis of the glycosaminoglycan composition of the proteoglycan shows an increased amount of chondroitin sulfate, suggesting that the increased labeling per cell may be attributed to an augmented synthesis of chondroitin sulfate glycosaminoglycan on the core protein that also bears heparan sulfate, thus altering the proportions of these two glycosaminoglycans on this hybrid proteoglycan. We conclude that TGF-beta may affect NMuMG cell behavior by altering the structure and thus the activity of this proteoglycan.

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