When NIH 3T3 cells were transfected with the cDNA for basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF), most cells displayed a transformed phenotype. Acquisition of a transformed phenotype was correlated with the expression of high levels of bFGF (Quarto et al., 1989). Cells that had been transformed as a result of transfection with bFGF cDNA had a decreased capacity to bind 125I-bFGF to high affinity receptors. NIH 3T3 cells transfected with bFGF cDNA that expressed lower levels of bFGF were not transformed and had a normal number of bFGF receptors. NIH 3T3 cells transfected with the hst/Kfgf oncogene, which encodes a secreted molecule with 45% homology to bFGF, also displayed a transformed phenotype and decreased numbers of bFGF receptors. However, NIH 3T3 cells transfected with the H-ras oncogene were transformed but had a normal number of bFGF receptors. Thus, transformation by bFGF-like molecules resulted in downregulation of bFGF receptors. Receptor number was not affected by cell density for both parental NIH 3T3 cells and transformed cells. In the cells transfected with bFGF cDNA that were not transformed, the receptors could be downregulated in response to exogenous bFGF. Conditioned medium from transformed transfected cells contained sufficient quantities of bFGF to downregulate bFGF receptors on parental NIH 3T3 cells. Thus, the downregulation of bFGF receptors seemed related to the presence of bFGF in an extracytoplasmic compartment. Treatment of the transformed transfected NIH 3T3 cells with suramin, which blocks the interaction of bFGF with its receptor, reversed the morphological transformation and restored receptors almost to normal numbers. These results demonstrate that in these cells bFGF transforms cells by interacting with its receptor and that bFGF and hst/K-fgf may use the same receptor.

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