Treatment of sparse, proliferating cultures of 3T3 cells (target cells) with medium conditioned by exposure to density-inhibited 3T3 cultures resulted in an inhibition of growth and division in the target cells when compared to similar treatment with unconditioned medium (UCM). This differential effect of conditioned medium (CM) and UCM on target cells was demonstrated using three assay systems: (a) assessment of total cell number; (b) measurement of [3H]thymidine incorporated into acid-precipitable DNA; and (c) determination of the percentage of radioactively labeled nuclei in individual cells after incorporation of [3H]thymidine. The difference in the total incorporation of [3H]thymidine in CM-treated and UCM-treated cells was reflected by a difference in the percent of labeled cells. There was no differences in the average number of grains per labeled cell in the two cultures. Moreover, the inhibitory effect of the CM on target cell proliferation was reversible. Finally, this growth inhibitory activity can be collected in serum-free medium, precipitated by ammonium sulfate, and fractionated by gel filtration. In these purification procedures, the inhibitory activity was consistently found to be associated with the protein-containing fractions of the CM. No activity was found upon similar treatment with UCM. These results suggest that a system has been developed for the purification and molecular analysis of growth inhibitory factors that may mediate growth control in culture fibroblasts.

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