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Dev Biol. 1986 Jun;115(2):363-79.

Cytodifferentiation and tissue phenotype change during transformation of embryonic lens epithelium to mesenchyme-like cells in vitro.


A number of adult and embryonic epithelia, when suspended within native type I collagen gels, give rise to elongate bipolar cells that migrate freely within the three-dimensional matrix. The morphology of these newly formed mesenchyme-like cells is indistinguishable from "true" mesenchymal cells at the light and ultrastructural level. In this report, we extend previous observations on the transformation of embryonic avian lens epithelium to mesenchyme-like cells. Lens epithelia, dissected from 12-day chick embryos, were cultured either within a collagen matrix or on a two-dimensional surface. Cells derived from explants on the surface of type I collagen express the epithelial phenotype. The cells form new basal lamina, continue to express delta-crystallin protein and secrete both type IV collagen and laminin. In contrast, epithelia suspended within collagen gels lose epithelial morphology, phenotype, and cytodifferentiation. The newly formed mesenchyme-like cells lack the ability to synthesize lens-specific delta-crystallin protein, type IV collagen, and laminin. They do, however, express type I collagen de novo, a characteristic of mesenchymal cells. The changes in cytodifferentiation and tissue phenotype which occur during the transformation are stable under the conditions studied here. When mesenchyme-like cells are removed from the gel and replated onto two-dimensional surfaces, they remain bipolar, will invade collagen matrices, and are unable to synthesize delta-crystallin protein.

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