12-o-Tetradecanoyl-phorbol-13-acetate-differentiated U937 cells express a macrophage-like profile of neutral proteinases. High levels of secreted collagenase and collagenase inhibitor accompany low levels of intracellular elastase and cathepsin G

J Clin Invest. 1986 May;77(5):1675-81. doi: 10.1172/JCI112485.


Human monocytic tumor cells of the U937 cell line contain substantial quantities of two neutrophil neutral proteinases, elastase and cathepsin G, raising the question of whether their presence reflects an expression of transformation or whether normal monocytes undergo a developmental stage in which they produce certain neutrophil proteinases. To address this issue, we examined U937 cells for production of collagenase, since human alveolar macrophages release fibroblast-like collagenase, an enzyme that is distinct from neutrophil collagenase. Using an immunoassay that utilized antibody to skin fibroblast collagenase, we found that U937 cells secreted barely detectable quantities of enzyme, 10-12 ng/10(6) cells per 24 h, under basal conditions. Upon incubation with 10 nM 12-o-tetradecanoyl-phorbol-13-acetate (TPA), however, collagenase release increased 200-fold, comparable to the amount secreted by phorbol-stimulated human fibroblasts. Metabolic labeling and immunoprecipitation confirmed the enhanced synthesis of U937 cell collagenase upon TPA exposure. This enzyme activity further resembled fibroblast collagenase and differed from neutrophil collagenase by exhibiting preferential cleavage of monomeric type III collagen relative to type I. As previously observed with human alveolar macrophages, U937 cells also released a protein identical to the collagenase inhibitor produced by human skin fibroblasts, a molecule not associated with neutrophils. Release of this inhibitor increased 10-fold with TPA exposure. In contrast to collagenase and collagense inhibitor, TPA-treated U937 cells contained only 10-15% as much elastase and cathepsin G activities as control cells. Thus, TPA-induced differentiation modified the presence of these enzymes in the direction of their content in normal monocytes. Since the neutral proteinase profile of undifferentiated U937 cells resembles that of neutrophils and changes markedly after cellular differentiation to one that is characteristic of monocytes, these data suggest that neutrophilic proteinases may be produced by normal monocytes during the early stages of their differentiation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cathepsin G
  • Cathepsins / analysis*
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects
  • Cell Line
  • Chemotaxis
  • Cholecalciferol / pharmacology
  • Cyclic AMP / pharmacology
  • DNA / analysis
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / enzymology
  • Macrophages / enzymology*
  • Microbial Collagenase / analysis*
  • Microbial Collagenase / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Monocytes / enzymology*
  • N-Formylmethionine Leucyl-Phenylalanine / pharmacology
  • Neutrophils / enzymology*
  • Pancreatic Elastase / analysis*
  • Phorbols / pharmacology*
  • Serine Endopeptidases
  • Tetradecanoylphorbol Acetate / pharmacology*


  • Phorbols
  • Cholecalciferol
  • N-Formylmethionine Leucyl-Phenylalanine
  • DNA
  • Cyclic AMP
  • Cathepsins
  • Serine Endopeptidases
  • CTSG protein, human
  • Cathepsin G
  • Pancreatic Elastase
  • Microbial Collagenase
  • Tetradecanoylphorbol Acetate