Melanoma is one of the most aggressive solid tumors and includes a stromal microenvironment that regulates cancer growth and progression. The components of stromal microenvironment such as fibroblasts, fibroblast aggregates and cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) can differently influence the melanoma growth during its distinct stages. In this work, we have developed and studied a stromal microenvironment model, represented by fibroblasts, proto-myofibroblasts, myofibroblasts and aggregates of inactivated myofibroblasts, such as spheroids. In particular, we have generated proto-myofibroblasts from primary cutaneous myofibroblasts. The phenotype of proto-myofibroblasts is characterized by a dramatic reduction of α-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA) and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) protein levels, as well as an enhancement of cell viability and migratory capability compared with myofibroblasts. Furthermore, proto-myofibroblasts display the mesenchymal marker vimentin and less developed stress fibers, with respect to myofibroblasts. The analysis of crosstalk between the stromal microenvironment and A375 or A2058 melanoma cells has shown that the conditioned medium of proto-myofibroblasts is cytotoxic, mainly for A2058 cells, and dramatically reduces the migratory capability of both cell lines compared with the melanoma-control conditioned medium. An array analysis of proto-myofibroblast and melanoma cell-conditioned media suggests that lower levels of some cytokines and growth factors in the conditioned medium of proto-myofibroblasts could be associated with their anti-tumor activity. Conversely, the conditioned media of melanoma cells do not influence the cell viability, outgrowth, and migration of proto-myofibroblasts from spheroids. Interestingly, the conditioned medium of proto-myofibroblasts does not alter the cell viability of both BJ-5ta fibroblast cells and myofibroblasts. Hence, proto-myofibroblasts could be useful in the study of new therapeutic strategies targeting melanoma.
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