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Cell Growth Differ. 1995 Jun;6(6):769-79.

Coexpression of the c-kit and stem cell factor genes in breast carcinomas.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Medical College of Virginia, Richmond 23249, USA.


Expression of the c-kit tyrosine kinase growth factor receptor has been reported in some breast tumors; however, no data exist concerning expression of its ligand, stem cell factor. The aim of this study was to determine how frequently the c-kit and stem cell factor genes were coexpressed in breast tumors and tumor-derived cell lines and to determine whether coexpression of c-kit and stem cell factor could result in growth stimulation of breast tumor cells. Expression of the c-kit and stem cell factor genes in tissue specimens and cell lines was determined using an RNase protection assay, with confirmation of c-kit protein expression by immunohistochemistry and Western blotting in tumor tissue and cell lines, respectively. Of 11 tumor specimens studied, 9 expressed variable but detectable quantities of c-kit; 7 of 13 tumor-derived cell lines also expressed c-kit. All tumor specimens and cell lines expressed detectable stem cell factor mRNA, suggesting that an autocrine growth loop could exist in the majority of breast carcinomas. To determine the biological effects of coexpression of c-kit and stem cell factor, the MCF-7 cell line, which expresses only stem cell factor, was transfected with a c-kit expression vector. Coexpression of c-kit and stem cell factor in MCF-7 cells resulted in an enhanced growth rate and cloning efficiency but not a loss of the dependence of this cell line upon estrogen. Analysis of subclones expressing different amounts of c-kit protein revealed that, although they all showed enhanced growth relative to control transfectants in serum-free medium containing IGF-1, only the highest c-kit expressor responded with additional growth to exogenous soluble stem cell factor. However, all c-kit-expressing clones, but not control clones, showed growth inhibition when exposed to a blocking anti-c-kit antibody. This blocking antibody also significantly inhibited the growth of the established ZR75-1 cell line in serum-free medium containing IGF-1. Taken together, these data suggest that coexpression of stem cell factor and c-kit could be responsible for growth deregulation in a significant number of breast carcinomas.

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