Serially cultivated thyroid follicular cells are not active in hormone synthesis but retain a thyrotropin-responsive adenylate cyclase. The exposure of such cells to thyrotropin leads to an increase in the concentration of intracellular cAMP and a drastic change in morphology including a total cytoplasmic arborization. The present communication describes these changes at the cytoskeletal level using a cell line derived from a human functioning thyroid adenoma. Phase contrast microscopy showed that the cytoplasmic arborization was preceded by a total disappearance of stress fibers, visible within 20 min of exposure. Small marginal membrane ruffles could also be seen. These morphological changes could also be induced by the addition of dibutyryl cAMP. The action of both thyrotropin and dibutyryl cAMP was potentiated by theophylline. High voltage electron microscopy of whole mounted cells confirmed the loss of stress fibers (microfilament bundles). In addition, thyrotropin treatment led to an uneven redistribution of the cytoplasmic ground substance and to changes in the organization of the microtrabecular lattice. Stereo images demonstrated numerous minute surface ruffles. The thyrotropin-induced arborization was reversible even in the presence of thyrotropin. After 24 h of treatment, cells had flattened and then contained very straight and condensed microfilament bundles. The results thus demonstrate that thyrotropin induces a disintegration of microfilament bundles in human, partially dedifferentiated, follicular cells and that this effect to all appearances is caused by cAMP, the second messenger in thyrotropin action. The relation of this event in partially dedifferentiated cells to the effect of thyrotropin in the intact thyroid gland is unclear. The fact that several other cultured hormone-responsive cells round up or become arborized in conjunction with an increase in cAMP levels implies that cAMP may be a major factor in the disassembly of microfilament bundles in these cells.

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