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Biochim Biophys Acta. 1988 Aug 3;948(1):17-36.

Human teratocarcinomas.

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Wistar Institute of Anatomy and Biology, Spruce, Philadelphia, PA 19104.


Teratocarcinomas are one of the commonest forms of cancer in young adult men. Cell lines derived from these tumors, and particularly the cell lines composed of their embryonal carcinoma (EC) stem cells, may provide useful information concerning the development and subsequent pathology of teratocarcinomas in humans. In addition, it is likely that human EC cells resemble early embryonic cells and can be used as an in vitro counterpart of such cells from the human embryo. Several common properties of human EC cells have been identified, and a human EC cell line, TERA-2, that is capable of extensive somatic differentiation has been cloned. In nude mice, TERA-2 EC cells form tumors containing neural elements and glandular structures that resemble primitive gut. In culture, these EC cells can be induced to differentiate by exposure to retinoic acid and hexamethylenebisacetamide (HMBA). Differentiation is marked by the disappearance of several cell surface antigens characteristic of human EC cells, and the appearance of other antigens on the various subsets of differentiated derivatives. In retinoic acid-induced cultures, these differentiated derivatives include neurons and cells permissive for the replication of cytomegalovirus, a virus that can cause birth defects in humans. On the other hand, HMBA appears to activate an alternative pathway of differentiation for TERA-2 EC cells, although the identity of the resulting cells remains to be elucidated. In addition to providing a tool for analyzing the evolution of teratocarcinomas in human patients, the TERA-2 EC cells may provide us with insights into the mechanisms of cellular differentiation in the human embryo and a model in which to investigate how teratogenic agents such as HCMV can disrupt these processes.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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