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Eur J Cell Biol. 1996 Jan;69(1):76-85.

The role of matrix contact and of cell-cell interactions in choriocarcinoma cell differentiation.

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Institut für Anatomie, Universitätsklinikum Essen, Germany.


Cell differentiation is supported much better by gels of extracellular matrix than by the same matrix provided as a rigid substrate. Many cell types including normal and malignant trophoblast cells, however, form multicellular multilayered aggregates on matrix gels with increased cell-to-cell contacts as compared to regular monolayers on rigid matrix substrates. In such cultures, it remained open, so far, whether stimulated expression of differentiation markers is caused by enhanced cell-to-cell communication or is displayed only by cells in direct contact to the gel. Therefore, choriocarcinoma cells (BeWo) were grown as aggregates: (a) on gels of the basement membrane-like Matrigel, (b) on plastic coated with poly-HEMA, or (c) as aggregates (spheroids) in suspension culture. Production of the differentiation marker chorionic gonadotropin was stimulated significantly in aggregates attached to gels of Matrigel or to the poly-HEMA substrate but not in suspended spheroids. With respect to cell-cell communications, however, expression of E-cadherin mRNA was not altered in any type of aggregates, as compared to control cultures on plastic. The expression of connexin43 mRNA (not of connexin26) was increased only in suspended spheroids, while microinjection of the fluorescent dye Lucifer Yellow suggested that cell communication via gap junctions was absent from cells grown as monolayers and was not induced in any type of aggregate. When cells were grown on gels of Matrigel, the relevance of direct cellular contact to the substrate for differentiation was analyzed by immunohistochemistry. Trophoblastic differentiation markers (chorionic gonadotropin, placental lactogen, placenta-type alkaline phosphatase, and pregnancy-specific glycoprotein beta 1) as well as the proliferation marker Ki-67 were not preferentially expressed in cells that were in contact with the gel. Similar random distributions of all these markers were also observed in spheroids cultured in suspension. The distributions of several matrix molecules and of different integrins were comparable between aggregates on matrix gels and those in suspension culture. According to these data, cell-cell communication appears to play a subordinate role for cytodifferentiation in cell aggregates on matrix gels, so that substrate anchorage and physical properties of the substrate may be the decisive factors. Interestingly, however, direct contact to the substrate does not seem to be essential for the stimulation of differentiation in cells on matrix gels. The results are discussed in the context of the "tensegrity"-model for cell-matrix interactions in which proper mechanical properties of the substrate are important for the regulation of cell differentiation by allowing a balanced integrity of external and cell-internal tensile forces.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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