An in vivo functional genetic screen reveals a role for the TRK-T3 oncogene in tumor progression

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Over the past decades, much has been learnt about the genes that contribute to oncogenic transformation of primary cells in vitro. However, much less is known about the genes that contribute to the later stages of tumor progression, in which cells of ever increasing malignancy arise through clonal selection in vivo. To search for genes that confer a tumor progression phenotype in vivo, we have used a functional genetic approach. We used adenovirus-transformed mouse embryo fibroblasts, which are tumorigenic in immunodeficient nude mice, but not in immunocompetent mice, due to strong cytotoxic T-cell-mediated immune rejection. We infected these cells in vitro with several high-complexity retroviral cDNA expression libraries and selected rare variants that formed tumors in immunocompetent mice. Using this approach, we identify here the TRK-T3 oncogene as a tumor progression gene. TRK-T3 does not inhibit T-cell reactivity towards the tumor cells. Instead, we find that cells expressing TRK-T3 enhances in vivo growth rate, most likely by stimulating anchorage-independent proliferation in growth factor-limiting conditions. Our data indicate that cDNA expression libraries can be used to identify tumor progression genes in vivo that cannot be readily identified using in vitro cell culture systems.

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