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Transforming growth factors (TGFs) were discovered as activities that were secreted by cancer cells, and later by normal cells, and had the ability to phenotypically and reversibly transform immortalized fibroblasts. TGF-β distinguished itself from TGF-α because it did not bind to the same epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor as TGF-α and, therefore, acted through different cell-surface receptors and signaling mediators. This review summarizes the discovery of TGF-β, the early developments in its molecular and biological characterization with its many biological activities in different cell and tissue contexts and its roles in disease, the realization that there is a family of secreted TGF-β-related proteins with many differentiation functions in development and activities in normal cell and tissue physiology, and the subsequent identification and characterization of the receptors and effectors that mediate TGF-β family signaling responses.
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