Previous studies have shown that the TNF-alpha gene is transcribed and translated in fully differentiated human placental syncytiotrophoblast. In this study, TNF transcripts were identified by in situ hybridization in cytotrophoblastic cells, a progenitor subpopulation that proliferates rapidly in early gestation tissues. To establish molecular and biochemical characteristics of cytotrophoblastic TNF and to evaluate potential utilization, experiments were conducted on two cytotrophoblastic cell lines, Jar and JEG-3. Northern blot hybridization and immunocytochemical tests showed that Jar and JEG-3 cells contained TNF mRNA and specific protein. Enzyme immunoassays demonstrated production of TNF, and immunoprecipitation experiments showed that Jar cell TNF protein was the same molecular mass as macrophage TNF. DNA synthesis in both lines was promoted by rTNF, and experiments employing 17-mer TNF antisense and sense oligonucleotides showed specific inhibition of DNA synthesis by antisense sequences. Both p60 and p80 TNF-R mRNA were present in the choriocarcinoma cell lines, and DNA synthesis was inhibited by antibody to the p60 TNF-R. Although the two lines were similar in many respects, Jar cells produced more TNF and demonstrated a greater reliance on TNF for their growth. Collectively, the results indicate that: 1) the TNF gene is expressed in both normal and malignant cytotrophoblast; 2) certain molecular, immunologic, and biochemical characteristics of trophoblast-derived TNF are similar to macrophage TNF; and 3) the p60 TNF-R facilitates utilization of TNF as an autocrine growth factor by choriocarcinoma cells. Although TNF apparently serves important functions in cytotrophoblast during the course of placental development that might include promotion of proliferation and invasion, constitutive expression of this gene in neoplastic cells could account in part for the remarkable ability of trophoblastic tumors to overcome host defenses.

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