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Cell Cycle. 2011 Aug 1;10(15):2540-8. Epub 2011 Aug 1.

Gene expression signature of c-MYC-immortalized human fibroblasts reveals loss of growth inhibitory response to TGFβ.

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Program in Cancer Biology, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, WA, USA.


Cancer cells exhibit the ability to proliferate indefinitely, but paradoxically, overexpression of cellular oncogenes in primary cells can result in a rapid and irreversible cell cycle arrest known as oncogene-induced senescence (OIS). However, we have shown that constitutive overexpression of the oncogene c-MYC in primary human foreskin fibroblasts results in a population of cells with unlimited lifespan; these immortalized cells are henceforth referred to as iMYC. Here, in order to further elucidate the mechanisms underlying the immortalization process, a gene expression signature of three independently established iMYC cell lines compared to matched early passage c-MYC overexpressing cells was derived. Network analysis of this "iMYC signature" indicated that a large fraction of the down-regulated genes were functionally connected and major nodes centered around the TGFβ, IL-6 and IGF-1 signaling pathways. Here, we focused on the functional validation of the alteration of TGFβ response during c-MYC-mediated immortalization. The results demonstrate loss of sensitivity of iMYC cells to activation of TGFβ signaling upon ligand addition. Furthermore, we show that aberrant regulation of the p27 tumor suppressor protein in iMYC cells is a key event that contributes to loss of response to TGFβ. These findings highlight the potential to reveal key pathways contributing to the self-renewal of cancer cells through functional mining of the unique gene expression signature of cells immortalized by c-MYC.

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