A study of the growth and differentiation of the human adenocarcinoma of the colon cell line HT-29

  • Jayne A. Gummer

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The HT-29 human colon adenocarcinoma cell line, like many epithelial cells, displays an undifferentiated phenotype when cultured on plastic substrata. Biochemical markers of differentiation, such as brush border associated enzymes and carcinoembryonic antigen were expressed at very low levels. The differentiation-inducing effects of the culture of HT-29 cells on collagen type I gels were evaluated, and were assessed by morphological appearance, brush border associated enzyme activities and the secretion of CEA. The effect that this more physiological environment had on their chemosensitivity to a panel of chemotherapeutic agents was determined, so as to indicate whether this system could be used to improve the selectivity of screening for novel anticancer agents. Initial studies were performed on HT-29 cells derived from cells seeded directly from plastic substrata onto the collagen gels (designated Non-PPC gels). Their time of exposure to the collagen was limited to the time course of a single experiment and the results suggested that a longer, more permanent exposure might produce a more pronounced differentiation. HT-29 cells were then passaged continuously on collagen gels for a minimum of 10 passages prior to experimentation (designated PPC gels). The same parameters were measured, and compared to those for the cells grown on plastic and on the non-passaged collagen gels (Non-PPC) from the original studies. Permanently passaged cells displayed a similar degree of morphological differentiation as the non-passaged cells, with both culture conditions resulting in a more pronounced differentiation than that achieved by culture on plastic. It was noted that the morphological differentiation observed was very heterogeneous, a situation also seen in xenografted tumours in vivo. The activity of alkaline phosphatase and the production of CEA was higher in the cells passaged on collagen (PPC) than the cells cultured on non-passaged collagen gel (Non-PPC) and plastic. The biochemical determination of aminopeptidase activity showed that collagen gel culture enhanced the activity in both non-passaged and passaged HT-29 cells above that of the cells cultured on plastic. However, immunocytochemical localization of aminopeptidase and sucrase-isomaltase of samples of cells grown on the various substrata for 7, 14, 21 and 28 days showed a reduction in both enzymes in the cells grown on collagen gels when compared to cells grown on plastic. The reason for the discrepancy between the two assays for aminopeptidase is at this stage unexplained.
Although, there was evidence to suggest that the culture of HT-29 cells on collagen gels was capable of inducing morphological and biochemical markers of enterocytic differentiation, there were no differences in the chemosensitivity of the different cell groups to a panel of anticancer agents.
Preliminary studies suggested that the ability of the cells to polarize by their culture on porous filter chambers without any exogenous ECM was sufficient to enhance HT-29 differentiation and the onset of differentiation was probably correlated with the production of ECM by the cells themselves.
Date of AwardMay 1991
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorJohn A. Hickman (Supervisor)


  • HT-29 cells
  • collagen type I
  • differentiation
  • chemosensitivity
  • continuous subculturing

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