BACKGROUND - Transforming growth factor alpha (TGF-alpha) and its receptor (EGF-R) may regulate normal and malignant epithelial cell growth by an autocrine mechanism. We investigated the role of TGF-alpha in regulating head and neck SCC tumor growth.
METHODS - TGF-alpha and EGF-R levels were measured in 7 SCC cell lines and 14 SCC biopsies by RIA, Scatchard, and Western analysis. TGF-alpha autocrine stimulation of DNA synthesis in SCC cell lines was assessed by incubation with TGF-alpha neutralizing antibodies and tyrphostin AG 1478, a selective and potent inhibitor of EGF-R kinase.
RESULTS - All SCC cell lines synthesized TGF-alpha and expressed elevated EGF-R levels compared to normal keratinocytes. Twelve of the 14 SCC biopsies contained TGF-alpha protein and 8 had specific EGF-R. Exogenous TGF-alpha or EGF significantly increased DNA synthesis in 4 of 5 SCC cell lines. TGF-alpha neutralizing antibodies or tyrphostin AG 1478 reduced DNA synthesis in the two SCC cell lines (FaDu and SCC9) tested.
CONCLUSIONS - These results indicate that SCC cell lines and tumors usually synthesize TGF-alpha, have elevated levels of EGF-R, and are mitogenically stimulated by a TGF-alpha autocrine system. Selective inhibition of the TGF-alpha system by EGF-R kinase inhibitors or TGF-alpha neutralizing antibodies may be useful strategies for treating SCC that overexpress TGF-alpha and its receptor.