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BMC Cancer. 2006 May 4;6:116.

Alteration of gene expression profiles during mycoplasma-induced malignant cell transformation.

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  • 1Department of Environmental & Infectious Disease Sciences, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Washington, DC 20306-6000, USA.



Mycoplasmas are the smallest microorganisms capable of self-replication. Our previous studies show that some mycoplasmas are able to induce malignant transformation of host mammalian cells. This malignant transformation is a multistage process with the early infection, reversible and irreversible stages, and similar to human tumor development in nature. The purpose of this study is to explore mechanisms for this malignant transformation.


To better understand mechanisms for this unique process, we examined gene expression profiles of C3H cells at different stages of the mycoplasma-induced transformation using cDNA microarray technology. A total of 1185 genes involved in oncogenesis, apoptosis, cell growth, cell-cycle regulation, DNA repair, etc. were examined. Differences in the expression of these genes were compared and analyzed using the computer software AtlasImage.


Among 1185 genes screened, 135 had aberrant expression at the early infection stage, 252 at the reversible stage and 184 at the irreversible stage. At the early infection stage, genes with increased expression (92 genes) were twice more than those with decreased expression (42 genes). The global gene expression at the reversible stage appeared to be more volatile than that at any other stages but still resembled the profile at the early infection stage. The expression profile at the irreversible stage shows a unique pattern of a wide range of expression levels and an increased number of expressing genes, especially the cancer-related genes. Oncogenes and tumor suppressors are a group of molecules that showed significant changes in expression during the transformation. The majority of these changes occurred in the reversible and irreversible stages. A prolonged infection by mycoplasmas lead to the expression of more cancer related genes at the irreversible stage.


The results indicate that the expression profiles correspond with the phenotypic features of the cells in the mycoplasma induced transformation process. The early mycoplasma infection stage shares a common phenomenon with many other acute infections, genes with increased expression significantly outnumbering those with decreased expression. The reversible stage is a transition stage between benignancy and malignancy at the molecular level. Aberrant expression of oncogenes and tumor repressors plays a key role in mycoplasma-induced malignant transformation.

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