Differential impact of TGF-beta and EGF on fibroblast differentiation and invasion reciprocally promotes colon cancer cell invasion

Cancer Lett. 2008 Aug 8;266(2):263-74. doi: 10.1016/j.canlet.2008.02.068.


Several studies indicate that cancer-associated fibroblasts play a critical role in cancer cell invasion and metastasis, the hallmarks of malignancy. To better understand the mechanisms underlying such effects, we established a heterotypic model of human fibroblasts (primary colon fibroblasts and immortalized human dermal fibroblasts) in co-culture with human colon cancer cells (HCT-8/E11), using three-dimensional collagen type-I and Matrigel matrices. We report that TGF-beta is the unique and dominant factor to provide pro-invasive signals to HCT-8/E11 colon cancer cells from TGF-beta-treated human fibroblasts in three-dimensional collagen type I and Matrigel matrices. These effects are not mimicked or reversed by EGF or bFGF, and are associated with the TGF-beta-mediated induction of myofibroblast differentiation and functional markers, such as alpha-SMA, the haptotactic matrix molecule TNC, collagen type 1 maturation enzyme P4H, serine protease FAP, and myofibroblast contractility. Accordingly, TGF-beta induced a strong activation of RhoA and stress fiber formation in fibroblasts, with no impact on Rac1-GTP levels. In contrast, EGF down-regulated Rho-GTP levels in fibroblasts, giving permissive signals for Rac1 activation, fibroblast polarization, and invasion. Taken together, our data imply that TGF-beta and EGF exert invasive growth-promoting actions in human colon tumors through a differential and cumulative impact on the stromal and cancer cell compartments. Our data predict that inhibitors directed at this reciprocal molecular and cellular crosstalk will have therapeutic applications for targeting the invasive growth of human primary tumors and their metastatic spread.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actin Cytoskeleton / drug effects
  • Actin Cytoskeleton / ultrastructure
  • Actins / analysis
  • Cell Culture Techniques
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Movement / drug effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Coculture Techniques
  • Collagen Type I / physiology
  • Colonic Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Epidermal Growth Factor / pharmacology*
  • Fibroblast Growth Factor 2 / pharmacology
  • Fibroblasts / cytology
  • Fibroblasts / drug effects
  • Fibroblasts / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / pharmacology*
  • rho GTP-Binding Proteins / metabolism


  • Actins
  • Collagen Type I
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta
  • Fibroblast Growth Factor 2
  • Epidermal Growth Factor
  • rho GTP-Binding Proteins