Different clonal cell lines have been isolated from cultures of mammary gland epithelium of lactating cow's udder and have been grown in culture media containing high concentrations of hydrocortisone, insulin, and prolactin. These cell (BMGE+H), which grow in monolayers of typical epithelial appearance, are not tightly packed, but leave intercellular spaces spanned by desmosomal bridges. The cells contain extended arrays of cytokeratin fibrils, arranged in bundles attached to desmosomes. Gel electophoresis show that they synthesize cytokeratins similar, if not identical, to those found in bovine epidermis and udder, including two large (mol wt 58,500 and 59,000) and basic (pH range: 7-8) and two small (mol wt 45,500 and 50,000) and acidic (pH 5.32 and 5.36) components that also occur in phosphorylated forms. Two further cytokeratins of mol wts 44,000 (approximately pH 5.7) and 53,000 (pH 6.3) are detected as minor cytokeratins in some cell clones. BMGE+H cells do not produce vimentin filaments as determined by immunofluorescence microscopy and gel electrophoresis. By contrast, BMGE-H cells, which have emerged from the same original culture but have been grown without hormones added, are not only morphologically different, but also contain vimentin filaments and a different set of cytokeratins, the most striking difference being the absence of the two acidic cytokeratins of mol wt 50,000 and 45,500.

Cells of the BMGE+H line are characterized by an unusual epithelial morphology and represent the first example of a nonmalignant permanent cell line in vitro that produces cytokeratin but not vimentin filaments. The results show that (a) tissue-specific patterns of intermediate filament expression can be maintained in permanent epithelial cell lines in culture, at least under certain growth conditions; (b) loss of expression of relatively large, basic cytokeratins is not an inevitable consequence of growth of epithelial cells in vitro. Our results further show that, during culturing, different cell clones with different cytoskeletal composition can emerge from the same cell population and suggest that the presence of certain hormones may have an influence on the expression of intermediate filament proteins.

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