Transfer of the SV40 large-T (LT) oncogene into isolated human and murine intestinal epithelial cells induced alterations of the ultrastructural organization and polarization of the resulting immortalized cell lines. We now demonstrate that the functional expression of the SV40 LT antigen in Caco-2 cells did not alter phenotypic markers of differentiation, including expression of villin, sucrase-isomaltase, brush border and dome formation. As compared to parental cells, the transfected Caco-2LT9 cells exhibited similar growth curves and no invasive properties in vitro. The major oncogenic function of the SV40 LT antigen in transfected Caco-2 cells is associated with reduced latency times necessary for the manifestation of tumors in athymic nude mice. The Caco-2 cell line contained deleted and mutant p53 alleles (stop codon in position 204) and has no detectable truncated p53 protein by Western blot. Molecular complexes between the SV40 LT antigen and the retinoblastoma-related proteins pRb1 and Rb2 were clearly identified at the different phases of the growth curve. When compared to normal human colonic crypts, Caco-2 cell differentiation is related to partial redistribution of pRb1 into hypophosphorylated, anti-proliferative forms. The pRb2 protein is found elevated in a subset of human colorectal tumors and their corresponding liver metastases. We conclude that: (1) Caco-2 cells exert a dominant control against the oncogenic functions of the LT antigen; (2) loss of p53 function is not restrictive for the establishment of polarity and differentiation of the enterocyte lineage; (3) the levels and phosphorylation status of the Rb1 and Rb2 proteins may play important roles in the proliferation and differentiation of normal and neoplastic human colonic mucosa.
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