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J Cell Biochem. 1990 Jan;42(1):13-31.

SV40 T antigen alone drives karyotype instability that precedes neoplastic transformation of human diploid fibroblasts.

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Cell Biology Group, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico 87545.


To define the role of SV40 large T antigen in the transformation and immortalization of human cells, we have constructed a plasmid lacking most of the unique coding sequences of small t antigen as well as the SV40 origin of replication. The promoter for T antigen, which lies within the origin of replication, was deleted and replaced by the Rous sarcoma virus promoter. This minimal construct was co-electroporated into normal human fibroblasts of neonatal origin along with a plasmid containing the neomycin resistance gene (neo). Three G418-resistant, T antigen-positive clones were expanded and compared to three T antigen-positive clones that received the pSV3neo plasmid (capable of expressing large and small T proteins and having two origins of replication). Autonomous replication of plasmid DNA was observed in all three clones that received pSV3neo but not in any of the three origin minus clones. Immediately after clonal expansion, several parameters of neoplastic transformation were assayed. Low percentages of cells in T antigen-positive populations were anchorage independent or capable of forming colonies in 1% fetal bovine serum. The T antigen-positive clones generally exhibited an extended lifespan in culture but rarely became immortalized. Large numbers of dead cells were continually generated in all T antigen-positive, pre-crisis populations. Ninety-nine percent of all T antigen-positive cells had numerical or structural chromosome aberrations. Control cells that received the neo gene did not have an extended life span, did not have noticeable numbers of dead cells, and did not exhibit karyotype instability. We suggest that the role of T antigen protein in the transformation process is to generate genetic hypervariability, leading to various consequences including neoplastic transformation and cell death.

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