Opposite cytokine synthesis by fibroblasts in contact co-culture with osteosarcoma cells compared with transwell co-cultures

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★ We recently discovered membrane and cytoplasm exchange between malignant cells and fibroblasts. ★ Exchange increases morphologic tumor cell diversity without genetic change. ★ We here demonstrate reduced IL-6, G-CSF, GM-CSF and increased FGF accompanies exchange. ★ This is opposite to cytokine levels in transwell cultures where exchange is prevented. ★ This is the first report of phenotypic change associated with exchange other than morphology.

We recently reported exchange of membrane and cytoplasm during contact co-culture between human Gingival Fibroblasts (h-GF) and SAOS-2 osteosarcoma cells, a process we termed ‘cellular sipping’ to reflect the manner in which cells become morphologically diverse through uptake of material from the opposing cell type, independent of genetic change. Cellular sipping is increased by Tumor Necrosis Factor-α (TNF-α), and we here show for the first time altered cytokine synthesis in contact co-culture supporting cellular sipping compared with co-culture where h-GF and SAOS-2 were separated in transwells. SAOS-2 had often undetectably low cytokine levels, while Interleukin-6 (IL-6), Granulocyte Colony Stimulating Factor (G-CSF) and Granulocyte–Macrophage Colony Stimulating Factor (GM-CSF) were secreted primarily by TNF-α stimulated h-GF and basic Fibroblast Growth Factor (FGF) was prominent in h-GF lysates (p < 0.001). Contact co-cultures permitting cellular sipping had lower IL-6, G-CSF and GM-CSF levels, as well as higher lysate FGF levels compared with TNF-α treated h-GF alone (p < 0.05). The opposite was the case for co-cultures in transwells, with increased IL-6, G-CSF and GM-CSF levels (p < 0.03) and no clear difference in FGF. We thus demonstrate significant phenotypic change in cultures where cellular sipping occurs, potentially contributing to tumor inflammatory responses.

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