The purpose of the present study was to determine whether skin fibroblasts from individuals, either with an inherited predisposition to cancer or with genetic disorders usually associated with a high risk of cancer, can be oncogenically transformed in vitro by a tumor promoter alone. The effects of chronic and limited applications of 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate (TPA) on several properties that are associated with transformation were examined using skin fibroblasts from individuals with polyposis coli, a familial cancer syndrome, xeroderma pigmentosum, Fanconi's anemia, and trisomy 21. The results of this study show that TPA treatment induces similar changes on cellular morphology, growth rate, saturation density, epidermal growth factor binding, and cytoskeleton in fibroblasts from both normal and genetically predisposed individuals. None of these cell lines, however, acquired anchorage-independent growth or unlimited growth potential in culture after chronic application of TPA. These observations suggest clearly that skin fibroblasts from individuals with either a genetic predisposition to or a high risk of cancer may not exist in a preneoplastic or “initiated” state susceptible to oncogenic transformation by TPA alone and that the mechanism of genetically determined cancer induction may be different from that of chemical carcinogenesis.

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This study was supported by grant MT-2169 from the Medical Research Council of Canada.

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