Human ectocervical epithelial cells are a primary target for infection by oncogenic papillomaviruses, which are strongly implicated as causative agents in the genesis of cervical cancer. Growth factors have been implicated as agents that stimulate proliferation and enhance the possibility of malignant transformation. In the present study we utilize several human papillomavirus (HPV) type 16-immortalized ectocervical epithelial cell lines to investigate the effects of epidermal growth factor (EGF) and insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I) on cell proliferation and the production of IGF binding proteins (IGFBPs). ECE16-1 cells, an HPV16-immortalized/nontumorigenic cell line, maintained in defined medium, produce and release high levels of IGFBP-3 (38/42 kDa) as well as smaller amounts of a 24-kDa IGFBP. Supplementation of defined medium with EGF causes a dose-dependent increase in cell growth and a concomitant decrease in the levels of IGFBP-3 released into the culture medium. EGF suppression of IGFBP-3 is maintained even when EGF-stimulated cell growth is suppressed 67% due to the simultaneous presence of 3 ng/ml of TGFβ1, indicating that EGF suppression of IGFBP-3 levels is independent of EGF effects on cell growth. EGF suppression of IGFBP-3 production is correlated with a reduction in IGFBP-3 mRNA level. In the presence of EGF, the growth response of the cells to ng amounts of IGF-I is significantly enhanced. Moreover, the simultaneous presence of both EGF and IGF-I reduces the level of IGFBP-3 more efficiently than EGF alone. We also observe that the IGFBP-3 level is decreased and the 24-kDa IGFBP level is increased in HPV16-positive tumorigenic versus nontumorigenic cell lines. This is the first report of EGF acting as a positive regulator of IGF-I action via the IGFBPs. On the basis of these findings, we propose that EGF stimulates ECE16-1 cell growth via a dual-action mechanism by (a) stimulating growth directly via the EGF mitogenic pathway and (b) stimulating growth indirectly by reducing the levels of inhibitory IGFBPs and thereby potentiating the effects of IGF-I. In addition, the observation that more highly transformed cell types produce lower levels of IGFBP-3 and higher levels of 24-kDa IGFBP suggests that tumor cells in more advanced cervical cancers may have an altered response to IGF-I.

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This work was supported by a grant from the American Institute for Cancer Research (R. L. E.) and utilized the facilities of the Skin Diseases Research Center of Northeast Ohio (NIH AR49750).

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