The glycoprotein tenascin is found in the extracellular matrix in regions of cell motility, cell proliferation, and tissue modelling. We have used novel tenascin cDNA probes to localize tenascin transcripts in the developing mouse and to study the regulation of tenascin expression by growth factors in vitro. At postnatal day 1 tenascin mRNAs are abundant in regions of bone and cartilage formation, as well as in the ependymal layer of the central nervous system. Previous studies have demonstrated that transforming growth factor-beta type 1 (TGF-beta 1) can induce tenascin expression in vitro. As TGF-beta 1 is absent or scarce in the developing brain, it is likely that other growth factors, alone or in addition to TGF-beta 1, may regulate tenascin expression during development. Therefore, we have compared the effects of TGF-beta 1 and a growth factor that is found in both developing connective tissue and the central nervous system, basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF), on tenascin expression in a mouse embryo fibroblast cell line (Swiss 3T3 cells). Immuno-slot blot analysis of Swiss 3T3 cell-conditioned culture medium demonstrates that bFGF is a more potent inducer of tenascin expression than TGF-beta 1. Furthermore, bFGF and TGF-beta 1 have an additive effect on levels of tenascin, but not fibronectin, in the conditioned medium. Western blots revealed that different forms of tenascin are induced by bFGF and TGF-beta 1: the tenascin induced by the former has a molecular mass of approximately 250 kDa, the latter induces an approximately 200 kDa form of tenascin. The induction of large tenascin by bFGF was confirmed by northern blot analysis, which revealed increased levels of an 8 kb tenascin transcript after 24 h by as little as 4 ng/ml of bFGF in serum-free medium. Thus bFGF, alone or in combination with TGF-beta 1, is a potential regulator of tenascin expression in vitro. bFGF may alter not only the relative abundance of tenascin and fibronectin in the extracellular matrix, but also the splice variant of tenascin expressed by a given cell type.

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