The ability of tumor cells to express elevated levels of proteinases capable of degrading tissue matrix and basement membrane components in vitro has been correlated to their invasive and metastatic potential. Many in vitro invasion assays have been performed either in the presence of serum or with tumor cells that had been previously grown in serum. Since serum contains large amounts of active proteinase inhibitors, their presence could complicate interpretations. We have, therefore, attempted to measure the amounts of serine proteinase inhibitors released into culture medium by two rat mammary adenocarcinoma metastatic variants selected in vitro for serum-independent growth and differing in their in vivo metastatic behavior. Concentrated spent media (CSM) derived from cultures of poorly metastatic MTLn2(T42D) and highly metastatic MTLn3(T17D) tumor cells, grown in the presence and absence of fetal bovine serum (FBS) for 20–24 h, were compared for the presence of serine proteinase inhibitors capable of inactivating α-chymotrypsin. Our results show that when MTLn2(T42D) and MTLn3(T17D) tumor cells were exposed to FBS, the CSM of MTLn2(T42D) exhibited nearly 5-fold greater amounts of active proteinase inhibitors than that of MTLn3(T17D). The amount of proteinase inhibitory activity detected in the CSM of tumor cells not exposed to FBS was not eliminated but declined by 82% and 37% for MTLn2(T42D) and MTLn3(T17D), respectively. Analysis for enzyme-inhibitor (E-I) complex formation by nonreducing sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis followed by autoradiography confirmed the kinetic results and revealed that the major inhibitor present in CSM/FBS of both variants forms a heat- and sodium dodecyl sulfate-stable E-I complex with an apparent molecular weight of approximately 79,000, identical to that formed when FBS or purified α1-proteinase inhibitor is incubated with [α-125I]chymotrypsin. E-I complexes with apparent molecular weights of 44,000 and 50,000 were formed from CSM/bovine serum albumin of MTLn3(T17D) and MTLn2(T42D), respectively, that were not detected when [α-125I]chymotrypsin was incubated with bovine serum albumin. We infer from these observations that, in culture, poorly metastatic MTLn2(T42D) tumor cells, as compared to their highly metastatic MTLn3(T17D) counterparts, exhibit an increased capacity to retain and subsequently release significantly greater amounts of serum-derived active proteinase inhibitors. Moreover, the detection of proteinase activity by kinetic analysis and E-I complexes by sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis and autoradiography in CSM prepared from cultures not exposed to FBS indicates that both variants have the capacity to produce their own inhibitors. This study calls attention to the possible involvement of tumor cell-produced and serum-derived proteinase inhibitors in cancer invasion and metastasis.


This study was supported in part by the National Cancer Institute, Department of Health and Human Services (Grant NCI-F32-CA-07209 to A. N.), the Kenneth Norris, Jr., Fellowship Foundation, and Hoffmann-La Roche Inc.

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