Transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta) is a potent mediator of cell proliferation and extracellular matrix formation, depending on the cell type and the physiological conditions. TGF-beta is usually secreted in a "latent" complex that needs activation before it can exert its effects. Several observations correlate increased expression of TGF-beta 1 with tumorigenesis. To evaluate the physiological relevance of increased TGF-beta 1 synthesis in tumor cells we established cell clones overexpressing TGF-beta 1 and observed the resulting physiological changes in TGF-beta overproducing cells in vitro and in vivo. As a model system we used the human E1A-transformed 293 tumor cells, which are insensitive to the direct growth modulatory effects of TGF-beta. The selection of this cell line allows an assessment of physiological alterations independent of TGF-beta induced proliferative changes. The use of two TGF-beta 1 expression vectors containing either the natural or a modified TGF-beta 1 precursor cDNA permitted the establishment of separate 293 cell lines overexpressing latent or active TGF-beta. Comparison of the resulting changes in glycolytic rate, adhesiveness and integrin and plasminogen activator expression established that, in vitro, both types of clones behaved similarly, indicating that expression of latent TGF-beta induces autocrine changes in the tumor cells and thus suggesting that some level of cell-associated activation occurs. TGF-beta overexpression resulted in an increased metabolic rate due to enhanced glycolysis, a property long associated with tumor cells. This increased glycolysis was not associated with altered proliferation. Cells overexpressing TGF-beta also displayed enhanced fibronectin mRNA and plasminogen activator synthesis and increased adhesiveness in vitro. They showed enhanced survival when plated sparsely on plastic in the absence of serum, and attached more readily to laminin. In addition, synthesis of several beta 1 integrins, in particular the alpha 1/beta 1, alpha 2/beta 1, and alpha 3/beta 1, all of which recognize laminin, were enhanced. Finally, cells overexpressing active TGF-beta, but not latent TGF-beta, also showed increased tumorigenicity in nude mice. Thus, an increase in endogenous TGF-beta synthesis confers several proliferation-independent phenotypic changes which may be of significance for the survival of the tumor cell inoculum or its subsequent growth, and for tumor formation and development. In the case of cells expressing active TGF-beta, the release of active TGF-beta into the vicinity of the tumor cells may also result in a more hospitable environment for tumor growth.

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