Background and Aims: Bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) belong to the transforming growth factor β superfamily of signaling molecules. We characterized the expression of BMP-2 and its receptors in human pancreatic tissues and pancreatic cancer cell lines and examined the effects of BMP-2 on mitogenesis. Methods: Expression of BMP-2 and its receptors was determined by Northern blot analysis using specific complementary DNA probes. Distribution of BMP-2 in pancreatic cancers was examined by immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization. Effects of BMP-2 on mitogenesis were assessed by monitoring cell proliferation and activation of mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK). Results: Compared with the normal pancreas, pancreatic cancers showed a 12.5-fold (P < 0.01), 2-fold (P < 0.01), and 8-fold (P < 0.01) increase of BMP-2, BMP receptor (R)-1A, and BMPR-II messenger RNA levels, respectively. By immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization, BMP-2 was expressed in the cancer cells within the tumor mass. There was a significant correlation between the presence of BMP-2 immunostaining in the tumors and shorter postoperative survival. Pancreatic cancer cell lines expressed variable levels of messenger RNA encoding BMP-2 and its receptors. BMP-2 stimulated the growth of two pancreatic cancer cell lines (ASPC-1 and CAPAN- 1). This mitogenic effect was associated with MAPK activation and blocked by the MAPK inhibitor PD98059 in CAPAN-1 but not in ASPC-1 cells. In both cell lines, expression of wild-type Smad4 abolished the BMP-2-mediated growth stimulation. BMP-2 inhibited the growth of COLO-357 cells, an effect that was blocked by expressing a dominant negative Smad4. BMP-2 had no effect in three cell lines that underexpressed either the BMP receptors or Smad1. Conclusions: These findings indicate that BMP-2 has the capacity to act as a mitogen when Smad4 is mutated and suggest that it might play a role in the pathobiology of human pancreatic cancer.
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