Keratins form the largest subfamily of intermediate filament proteins and show strict lineage- and differentiation-associated expression in epithelial cells. Little is known about the mechanisms that control keratin protein synthesis in these cells. We have examined the effect of the differentiation-modulating agent, 5'-bromo-2'-deoxyuridine (BrdU), on keratin 19 (K19) expression in two human lung carcinoma cell lines, DLKP and A549. Treatment of both cell lines with 10 microM BrdU for 7 d induced the expression of K19 protein in keratin-negative DLKP cells, and significantly increased K19 protein expression in A549 cells. K19 messenger ribonucleic acids (mRNAs) were detected by Northern blot and reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction analyses in both cell lines, but no increase in K19 mRNA levels was detected in either cell line, even with treatment with BrdU for up to 21 d. This suggests that K19 protein synthesis is normally blocked at a posttranscriptional level in DLKP cells, and BrdU can somehow reverse this block, resulting in the induction of K19 protein synthesis. Treatment of HL60, a leukemic cell line, with BrdU, resulted in noninduction of K19 protein synthesis, and no K19 mRNA transcripts were detected before and after BrdU treatment, possibly suggesting that BrdU is acting in an epithelial-specific manner to reverse a block in K19 protein synthesis in DLKP keratin-negative lung cancer cells. Therefore, DLKP (and A549) may be useful cellular models to investigate if this represents a regulatory step in early lung development or a mechanism whereby tumor cells possess the ability to down-regulate the expression of a more-differentiated phenotype.
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