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J Cell Physiol. 1992 Oct;153(1):103-11.

Heparin inhibition of autonomous growth implicates amphiregulin as an autocrine growth factor for normal human mammary epithelial cells.

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Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy, Oregon Health Sciences University, Portland 97201.


Normal human mammary epithelial cells (HMECs) proliferate in a serum-free defined growth medium in the absence of epidermal growth factor (Li and Shipley, 1991). Amphiregulin (AR) is a heparin-regulated, EGF-like growth factor. Our observation that one strain of HMECs produce AR mRNA (Cook et al., 1991 a) stimulated us to determine whether AR expression was a common phenomenon in HMECs and whether AR could act as an autocrine growth factor to support the EGF-independent growth of these cells. In this study, we detected high levels of AR expression in four separate HMEC strains while one immortal mammary cell line (HBL-100) and six mammary tumor-derived cell lines had low to undetectable levels of AR. The EGF-independent growth of HMECs was blocked by the addition of heparin or a monoclonal anti-EGF receptor antibody to the culture medium, implicating AR as an autocrine growth mediator. This hypothesis is further supported by the fact that medium conditioned by HMECs contains secreted AR protein. A mammary tumor-derived cell line, Hs578T, which proliferates in an EGF-independent manner, does not express detectable levels of AR and is not growth inhibited by heparin. Examination of the same cell types for expression of transforming growth factor type-alpha (TGF-alpha) mRNA revealed coordinate expression of AR and TGF-alpha in these cells. These data suggest that both AR and TGF-alpha mRNA are produced in much greater abundance by normal HMECs than in tumor-derived cells in culture, and that AR is an important autostimulatory factor for the growth of normal HMECs.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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