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J Urol. 1999 Nov;162(5):1800-5.

Transdifferentiation of prostate cancer cells to a neuroendocrine cell phenotype in vitro and in vivo.

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Department of Urology, College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, New York, New York, USA.



To better understand the source of neuroendocrine cells associated with human prostate cancer progression, we studied the ability of a cultured prostate cancer cell line, LNCaP, to transdifferentiate into neuroendocrine-like cells in vitro and in vivo.


Cyclic AMP concentrations were measured in extracts of LNCaP cells cultured in the presence of normal or hormone-deficient medium (containing charcoal-stripped serum) with the use of an immunoassay. Quantitative RT-PCR procedures were used to determine whether hormone depletion affects TGF-beta2 mRNA expression. Western blotting procedures (for neuron specific enolase [NSE]) were used to determine whether TGF-beta2 supplementation or antibody neutralization might affect the ability of cultured LNCaP cells to transdifferentiate to neuroendocrine-like cells. Finally, tumors formed from LNCaP cells xenografted into male nude mice were evaluated for the presence of neuroendocrine cells (prior and subsequent to castration of the host mouse) using an immunohistochemical stain for chromogranin A.


LNCaP cells cultured in a hormone-deficient medium have a mean 9-fold increase in cyclic AMP (p = 0.02) and a significant decline in the expression of TGF-beta2 mRNA when compared with cells grown in normal medium. Supplementation or depletion of TGF-beta2 did not affect the neuroendocrine conversion of LNCaP cells as assessed by NSE expression patterns. LNCaP tumors growing in castrated male nude mice were found to have significantly increased numbers of chromogranin A positive neuroendocrine cells (46/high powered field) when compared with tumors growing in intact male mice (3/high powered field) (p = 0.0038).


Exposure of LNCaP cells to a hormone deficient medium drastically increased cyclic AMP production and this may identify the biochemical pathway through which hormone depletion induces a neuroendocrine conversion of prostate cancer cells. Hormone depletion also reduced TGF-beta2 mRNA expression and this finding was consistent with our inability to demonstrate any effect of TGF-beta2 on neuroendocrine conversion in vitro. Finally, our demonstration of increased neuroendocrine cells found in LNCaP tumors growing in castrated immunodeficient mice suggests that the neuroendocrine cells associated with advanced human prostate tumors in vivo, arise from prostate cancer cells through the transdifferentiation process.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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