The avian gene 9E3/CEF-4, a member of the superfamily of genes that includes KC and gro, is expressed abundantly in exponentially growing cultures of chick embryo fibroblasts (CEFs) and at high levels in CEFs transformed with Rous sarcoma virus (RSV). The product of this gene is a secreted protein that has homologies and structural similarities to inflammatory mediators. The function of 9E3 is obscure and its expression in vivo has not yet been investigated. We studied by in situ hybridization and RNA blots the pattern of 9E3 mRNA distribution in the wings of normal, wounded, and RSV-infected newly hatched chicks. We found that the message for 9E3 is high in specific tissues in normal wings; whereas connective tissue, tendon, and bone express the gene, muscle fibers, endothelium, epidermis, and bone marrow do not. The distribution coincides with that of interstitial collagen. Wounding results in marked elevation of the mRNA within the granulation tissue formed during healing and in adjacent tissues, especially those showing neovascularization. Similar elevation of mRNA occurs immediately adjacent to RSV tumors but, surprisingly, the tumor tissue itself shows no detectable levels of this message. Cells explanted from the tumors and grown in culture also show no expression of 9E3, in marked contrast to the very high level found in similarly cultured RSV-transformed CEFs. These results show that there are intrinsic differences between transformed embryonic cells in tissue culture and RSV target cells in the hatched chick. However, the expression of the gene in the periphery of tumors leaves open the possibility that 9E3 may still be involved in RSV carcinogenesis. The abundant expression of 9E3 in normal tissues indicates that the product of this gene plays a normal physiological role in tissues growing by cell division, perhaps as a growth regulator. The elevated expression of 9E3 in areas of neovascularization, makes it possible that the product of this gene could act as an angiogenic factor. Finally, expression in conjunction with high collagen levels and in wounded tissues may point to a role in wound response and/or repair, possibly via alteration of extracellular matrix.

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