Background: Cancer-associated stromal cells interact with carcinoma cells and thus participate in tumor growth. Our aim was to characterize the ultrastructure and contractile properties of stromal cells in collagen gel cultured from lung cancer of various histological types and from tumor-free lung.
Methods: Cells cultured from lung cancer (13 adenocarcinomas, six squamous cell carcinomas, one adenosquamous carcinoma, and one pleomorphic carcinoma) and tumor-free lung were analyzed by transmission electron microscopy and three-dimensional collagen gel contraction assays. The expression of α-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA), a recognized myofibroblast marker, was examined by immunoelectron microscopy from individual cells and by Western blotting from the whole cultured cell population.
Results: According to their ultrastructure, the cell lines were composed of fibroblastic and myofibroblastic cells. In electron microscopy, cells of lung cancer exhibited more myofibroblastic features displaying higher amounts of actin belts (p = 0.057) and α-SMA labeling (p = 0.010) than cells from tumor-free lung. Myofibroblasts cultured from lung cancer of smokers expressed less α-SMA labeling (p = 0.013) than counterparts from nonsmokers. Western blotting revealed that cancer-associated fibroblasts expressed more α-SMA (p = 0.006) than cells from tumor-free lung, whereas cells from tumor-free central lung of smokers showed less α-SMA (p = 0.039) than counterparts from nonsmokers. Cells cultured from cancer contracted more in collagen gel than those from tumor-free lung. The contractile capacity in collagen gel correlated with the frequency of extracellular component of fibronexus by transmission electron microscopy.
Conclusions: Lung cancer–associated myofibroblasts are different both ultrastructurally and functionally when compared with cells cultured from tumor-free lung. Smoking altered myofibroblastic phenotype, regardless of their origin.