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Src-mediated morphology transition of lung cancer cells in three-dimensional organotypic culture

Hong T Nguyen1, Yan Zhuang1, Lichun Sun1, Steven P Kantrow2, Jay K Kolls3, Zongbing You4, Ying Zhuo1 and Bin Shan1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medicine, Tulane University School of Medicine, 1430 Tulane Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70112, USA

2 Department of Medicine, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, 1901 Perdido Street, New Orleans, LA 70112, USA

3 Department of Pediatrics, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, PA 15224, USA

4 Department of Structural and Cellular Biology, Tulane University School of Medicine, 1430 Tulane Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70112, USA

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Cancer Cell International 2013, 13:16  doi:10.1186/1475-2867-13-16

Published: 14 February 2013


A fribotic tumor microenvironment promotes progression of cancer. In this study, we utilize a reconstituted basement membrane mimics Matrigel based three-dimensional organotypic culture (rBM 3-D) to investigate the mechanisms that mediate the tumor promoting effects of the fibrogenic mediators TGF-β1 and type I collagen (Col-1) on lung adenocarcinoma cells. Similar to normal alveolar epithelial cells, the well-differentiated lung adenocarcinoma cells in rBM 3-D culture undergo acinar morphogeneis that features polarized epithelial cell spheres with a single central lumen. Either TGF-β1 or Col-1 modestly distorts acinar morphogenesis. On the other hand, TGF-β1 and Col-1 synergistically induce a transition from acinar morphology into stellate morphology that is characteristic of invasive and metastatic cancer cells. Inhibition of the Src kinase activity abrogates induction of stellate morphology, activation of Akt and mTOR, and the expression of tumor promoting genes by TGF-β1 and Col-1. To a similar extent, pharmacological inhibition of mTOR abrogates the cellular responses to TGF-β1 and Col-1. In summary, we demonstrate that TGF-β1 and Col-1 promote stellate morphogenesis of lung cancer cells. Our findings further suggest that the Src-Akt-mTOR axis mediates stellate morphogenesis. These findings also indicate that rBM 3-D culture can serve as an ideal platform for swift and cost-effective screening of therapeutic candidates at the interface of the tumor and its microenvironment.

TGF-β1; Src; Type I collagen; Three-dimensional culture; Extracellular matrix