Previous studies of the human neuroblastoma cell line SK-N-SH had demonstrated the presence of and phenotypic interconversion (transdifferentiation) between two morphologically and biochemically distinct cell types: N (neuroblastic) cells with properties of noradrenergic neurons and S (substrate-adherent) cells with properties of melanocytes. Current studies have sought to test the generality of these findings among other cultured human neuroblastoma cell lines and to define further the S-cell phenotype and that of a newly identified, morphologically intermediate, I-type cell. Morphologically homogeneous populations (clonal sublines or subpopulations) of N, S, and I cells were isolated from five additional neuroblastoma cell lines and analyzed biochemically for neuronal, glial, and melanocytic marker enzyme activities and norepinephrine uptake. Immunoblot techniques were used to detect intermediate filament proteins (neurofilament protein, vimentin, glial fibrillary acidic protein) and fibronectin. All N-type cells exhibited neuronal marker enzyme activities, specific uptake of norepinephrine, and presence of one or more neurofilament proteins. S-type cells generally lacked neuronal characteristics but contained, instead, tyrosinase activity (a melanocytic marker enzyme), vimentin, and fibronectin. This combination of attributes is suggestive of a multipotent embryonal precursor cell of the neural crest. I-type cells differentially expressed both S- and N-cell properties and could represent either a stem cell or an intermediate in the transdifferentiation process. Studies of the biological significance of human neuroblastoma cell trans-differentiation and the molecular mechanisms underlying this process may be of relevance to the biological and clinical behavior of this tumor in the patient.


Supported in part by Grants NS-17738 (NINCDS) and CA-31553 and CA-08748 (NCI) from the National Institutes of Health and by the Kleberg Foundation.

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