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Carcinogenesis. 1983;4(7):857-61.

A subpopulation of cultured human keratinocytes which is resistant to the induction of terminal differentiation-related changes by phorbol, 12-myristate, 13-acetate: evidence for an increase in the resistant population following transformation.


We have studied the action of phorbol, 12-myristate, 13-acetate (PMA) on human keratinocytes grown with lethally-irradiated 3T3 cells using medium supplemented with hydrocortisone, cholera toxin and epidermal growth factor. Normal keratinocyte cultures show a heterogeneous response to PMA; 90-93% of the colony-forming cells lose their colony-forming ability and form cornified envelopes when treated for 24 h with doses of 100 nM or less, but the remainder are resistant to doses of 1000 nM. The resistant cells are the precursors of the sensitive ones and heterogeneity is restored to those cells and their progeny after 8 days culture in the absence of PMA. Cultures of 3 squamous cell carcinoma lines, a SV40-transformed human keratinocyte line, and three clones of these lines were found to contain 3-17 times more PMA-resistant keratinocytes than the normal strains, and the size of the PMA-resistant fraction in each line was inversely related to the competence of that line to lose colony-forming efficiency when placed in suspension culture (which is the first detectable change in an ordered programme of events resembling terminal differentiation of the keratinocyte). The number of cells with cornified envelopes in surface cultures of normal human keratinocytes increased from approximately 3% in control cultures to approximately 70% in those treated for 6 days with 100 nM PMA. The transformed human keratinocyte cultures showed a 3-25-fold smaller increase in cornified envelope formation when treated with 100 nM PMA, and the increase in envelope formation by each line when exposed to this dose of PMA was related to the competence of that line to lose cloning efficiency in suspension culture. No relationship was found between the ability of any human keratinocyte strain or line we studied to metabolically inactivate PMA and their resulting response to the compound. The results are discussed in relation to the mechanism of action of PMA as a promoter of epidermal carcinogenesis.

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