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Uterine smooth muscle cells in primary culture

Alterations in fine structure, cytoskeletal organization and growth characteristics


Smooth muscle cells (SMC) were enzymatically isolated from the myometrium of adult rat and human uteri and grown in primary culture. Cell fine structure and cytoskeletal organization were followed by transmission electron microscopy and cytochemical demonstration of actin filaments, microtubules and intermediate filaments, and initiation of DNA synthesis was investigated by thymidine autoradiography. During the first few days in culture the cells spread out on the substrate and went through a morphological transformation including loss of myofilaments followed by formation of an extensive rough endoplasmic reticulum and a large Golgi complex. Actin filaments aggregated in stress fibers spanning the entire length of the cells and microtubules and intermediate filaments formed a radiating system originating in the juxtanuclear region. In vivo, the SMC contained intermediate filaments reactive for desmin, but as early as the first day of culture expressed vimentin as well. For five days at least, all cells remained positive for both proteins, but the staining for desmin decreased while that for vimentin increased. This structural modification was accompanied by initiation of DNA synthesis, with a peak on day 3 (45–55% labeled nuclei). Subconfluent, growth-arrested primary cultures responded weakly to purified platelet-derived growth factor and serum, and in secondary cultures no response to the mitogenic stimulation was obtained. The observations indicate that uterine SMC cultivated in vitro undergo a transformation from contractile to synthetic phenotype, similar to the transformation described previously for arterial SMC under the same conditions. The proliferative potential of the uterine cells is, however, markedly lower. The findings support the notions that the transition into synthetic phenotype is a necessary but not sufficient requirement for initiation of DNA synthesis in SMC and that visceral and vascular SMC represent separate differentiation pathways.

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Correspondence to Dr. Lena Palmberg.

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Palmberg, L., Thyberg, J. Uterine smooth muscle cells in primary culture. Cell Tissue Res. 246, 253–262 (1986).

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Key words

  • Uterus
  • Smooth muscle cells
  • Phenotype
  • Cytoskeleton
  • Growth
  • DNA synthesis
  • Cell culture