Cell-cell contact and specific cytokines inhibit apoptosis of colonic epithelial cells: growth factors protect against c-myc-independent apoptosis

Br J Cancer. 1997;75(7):960-8. doi: 10.1038/bjc.1997.167.


In this study we sought factors that determine the survival of human colonic epithelial cells. Normal colonic epithelial cells are dependent on cell-cell contacts and survival factors for the inhibition of apoptosis whereas, during colorectal tumorigenesis, cells develop mechanisms to evade these controls. The ability to survive loss of cell-cell contacts and/or growth factor deprivation is a marker of tumour progression. Many adenoma (premaligant) cultures survive only if cell-cell contacts are maintained in vitro and die by apoptosis if trypsinized to single cells. This also occurs in adenomas derived from familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) patients, therefore APC mutations do not confer resistance to cell death in response to loss of cell-cell contacts. We show here that if cell-cell contacts are maintained such cells are capable of survival in suspension. Adenoma cells also undergo apoptosis in response to removal of serum and growth factors from the medium. After removal of serum and growth factors c-myc is down-regulated within 2 h. Therefore, the induction of apoptosis is not an inappropriate response of the cells due to a deregulated c-myc gene. The apoptotic response is also p53 independent. Such cultures have been used to determine specific survival factors for colonic epithelial cells. Insulin, the insulin-like growth factors I and II, hydrocortisone and epidermal growth factor (EGF) protect cells from the induction of apoptosis in the absence of serum over a short-term period of 24 h. This approach may give insight into the factors governing growth and survival of colonic epithelial cells in vivo. This is the first report of specific growth factors protecting against apoptosis in human colonic epithelial cells.

MeSH terms

  • Adenoma / pathology*
  • Apoptosis*
  • Cell Adhesion*
  • Cell Survival
  • Clone Cells
  • Colon / cytology
  • Colonic Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Culture Media
  • Cytokines / physiology*
  • Epithelial Cells
  • Extracellular Matrix / physiology
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Mucosa / cytology


  • Culture Media
  • Cytokines