The cytogenetic changes in enhanced growth (EG) variants of rat tracheal epithelial cells in culture were examined. These variants which are detectable at 35 days after carcinogen exposure are the first phenotypic alteration in the multistep neoplastic process studied in this model system. Karyotypic analysis of N-methyl-N′-nitro-N-nitrosoguanidine-induced EG variants at Day 35 was made possible by the development of an in situ method of cytogenetic analysis on intact colonies containing too few cells for conventional chromosome preparation methods. Of the transformed EG variant colonies in both control and N-methyl-N′-nitro-N-nitrosoguanidine-treated groups, 62–78% had abnormal karyotypes which included numerical and structural changes. There were no specific chromosome changes, although aberrations of chromosomes 3 and 4 were recurrently observed. However, some colonies of even the most morphologically transformed EG variants were composed of only diploid cells. To confirm this finding 10 EG variant colonies were bisected and half of the clone was prepared for chromosome analysis and the other half was subcultured to measure the clonogenicity and karyotypes of the cells. Cells from 3 colonies plated very poorly on 3T3 feeders and therefore no karyotypic analysis of the colony-forming cells was possible; the cells of the 3 parental colonies were diploid. Three other parental colonies were predominantly diploid (80–90%) but upon replating the resultant daughter colonies had progressively smaller fractions of diploid cells indicating a selection for cells with abnormal karyotypes. When more selective conditions were used (i.e., growth after removal of the feeder cells), the percentage of abnormal cells increased even further. In one case the parental cells had a karyotypic alteration in the long arm of chromosome 4 and this karyotypic alteration was accentuated in the daughter colonies. Thus, selection of cells with increased growth ability upon subculturing or growth in the absence of feeder cells (properties associated with the acquisition of immortality) resulted in concomitant selection for cells with abnormal karyotypes. Since some of the carcinogen-induced rat tracheal epithelial cells expressing the EG variant phenotype were diploid, it is possible that the first step in this transformation process is an epigenetic change. However, most of the diploid cells became terminal. The aneuploid subpopulations present in these colonies have a selective growth advantage and comprise the cell compartment that expresses continued growth, immortality, and ultimately tumorigenicity.

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