Background: Tumor cells cultured in vitro are widely used to investigate the molecular biology of cancers and to evaluate responses to drugs and other agents. The full extent to which gene expression in cancer cells is modulated by extrinsic factors and by the microenvironment in which the cancer cells reside remains to be determined. Two cancer cell lines (A549 lung adenocarcinoma and U118 glioblastoma) were transplanted subcutaneously into immunodeficient mice to form tumors. Global gene-expression profiles of the tumors were determined, based on analysis of expression of human genes, and compared with expression profiles of the cell lines grown in culture.
Results: A bioinformatics approach associated genes that showed changes in their expression levels with functional classes as defined by either the GO gene annotations or MeSH terms in the literature. The classes of genes expressed at higher levels in cells grown in vitro indicated increased cell division and metabolism, reflecting the more favorable environment for cell proliferation. In contrast, in vivo tumor growth resulted in upregulation of a significant number of genes involved in the extracellular matrix (ECM), cell adhesion, cytokine and metalloendopeptidase activity, and neovascularization. When placed in comparable tissue environments, the U118 cells and the A549 cells expressed different sets of ECM and cell adhesion-related genes, suggesting different mechanisms of extracellular interaction at work in the different cancers.
Conclusions: Studies of this type allow us to examine the specific contribution of cancer cells to gene expression patterns within an in vivo tumor mixed with non-cancerous tissue.