The interrelationship between malignant epithelium and the underlying stroma is of fundamental importance in tumour development and progression. In the present study, we used cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) derived from genetically unstable oral squamous cell carcinomas (GU-OSCC), tumours that are characterized by the loss of genes such as TP53 and p16INK4A and with extensive loss of heterozygosity, together with CAFs from their more genetically stable (GS) counterparts that have wild-type TP53 and p16INK4A and minimal loss of heterozygosity (GS-OSCC). Using a systems biology approach to interpret the genome-wide transcriptional profile of the CAFs, we show that transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) family members not only had biological relevance in silico but also distinguished GU-OSCC-derived CAFs from GS-OSCC CAFs and fibroblasts from normal oral mucosa. In view of the close association between TGF-β family members, we examined the expression of TGF-β1 and TGF-β2 in the different fibroblast subtypes and showed increased levels of active TGF-β1 and TGF-β2 in CAFs from GU-OSCC. CAFs from GU-OSCC, but not GS-OSCC or normal fibroblasts, induced epithelial-mesenchymal transition and down-regulated a broad spectrum of cell adhesion molecules resulting in epithelial dis-cohesion and invasion of target keratinocytes in vitro in a TGF-β-dependent manner. The results demonstrate that the TGF-β family of cytokines secreted by CAFs derived from genotype-specific oral cancer (GU-OSCC) promote, at least in part, the malignant phenotype by weakening intercellular epithelial adhesion.
* Title and MeSH Headings from MEDLINE®/PubMed®, a database of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.