Heterogeneity of human colon carcinoma

Cancer Metastasis Rev. 1984;3(3):177-91. doi: 10.1007/BF00048384.


In order to better understand colon cancer, a model system reflecting the heterogenous nature of this disease was developed and used in the development of new cytotoxic and non-cytotoxic therapeutic approaches. A large bank of colon carcinoma cell lines was established from primary human colon carcinomas and grouped based on their tumorigenicity in athymic mice, their growth rates in soft agarose and in tissue culture, and their secreted levels of carcinoembryonic antigen. These cell lines were later characterized based on cell surface proteins and antigens detected with antisera raised against a differentiated colon carcinoma cell line. Although these biochemical markers correlated with the biological classification of these cell lines, there was still extensive heterogeneity within each group in all properties examined. This colon carcinoma cell system was used to study natural vs. selected resistance to the anticancer drug mitomycin C (MMC). The differing IC50 values in vitro were reflected in the inhibition by MMC of xenograft growth in athymic mice. A new, more readily bioactivatable analogue of MMC was tried and shown to be more active in vitro and in vivo, suggesting that rapid efflux of the drug before activation may be important in examining causes of resistance to MMC. Another approach to the treatment of colon cancer is the use of non-cytotoxic agents such as growth factors and differentiation agents to restore normal growth to the malignant cells. We have isolated and characterized two types of polypeptides from colon carcinoma cells and conditioned medium from these cells. The first, transforming growth factors (TGF's) confer a transformed phenotype on non-transformed fibroblasts while the second, tumor inhibitory factors (TIF's), inhibits the anchorage independent growth of transformed cells. The fact that extracts of colon carcinoma cells contain both activities suggests that the heterogeneity of the cell lines could be due to different levels of TGF's and TIF's produced. The effectiveness of differentiation agents to restore normal growth control using a transformed mouse embryo cell line was examined. Treatment of these cells with differentiation agents restored normal growth control to these cells. An increased synthesis of TGF's resulted from these treatments. Therefore, differentiation agents may be useful in non-cytotoxic treatment. The use of this model system for human colon carcinoma will hopefully lead to more effective drugs for the treatment of colon cancer in man.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / toxicity
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects
  • Cell Division
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Clone Cells
  • Colonic Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Drug Resistance
  • Growth Substances / isolation & purification
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Mitomycin
  • Mitomycins / toxicity
  • Neoplasm Transplantation
  • Transplantation, Heterologous


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Growth Substances
  • Mitomycins
  • Mitomycin