Betacellulin, a member of the epidermal growth factor (EGF) family, was originally isolated and identified from the conditioned medium from a murine pancreatic beta-cell carcinoma cell line. Recently, we isolated bovine betacellulin from a growth factor enriched cheese whey extract, but there is no information on the presence of betacellulin in other biological fluids. We have cloned the cDNA for bovine betacellulin, produced recombinant betacellulin and shown that it has a similar potency to the purified native molecule in stimulating the proliferation of Balb/c3T3 fibroblasts. We have produced a polyclonal antiserum to bovine betacellulin which did not cross-react with EGF or transforming growth factor-alpha (TGF-alpha). The antibody was used in a homologous RIA that was able to detect betacellulin in pooled bovine colostrum sampled during the first 3 days after calving (2.30+/-0.11 ng/ml mean+/-s.e.m.; n=6), in bovine milk soluble fraction (1.93+/-0.64 ng/ml mean+/-s.e.m.; n=5) and in bovine cheese whey (2.59+/-0.16 ng/ml mean+/-s.e.m.; n=3). The betacellulin concentration in foetal bovine serum (FBS) (3.68+/-0.59 ng/ml mean+/-s.e.m.; n=6) greatly exceeded that of betacellulin in serum from male calves 1 and 5 weeks of age (0.53+/-0.15 ng/ml and 0.70+/- 0.09 ng/ml respectively; mean+/-s.e.m.; n=9). Betacellulin measured in the serum of these same animals when aged between 27 and 43 weeks was below the detection limits of the RIA. Sera from 10 out of 36 unmated heifers contained betacellulin levels within the detection limits of the assay (0.433+/-0.06 ng/ml mean+/-s.e.m.; n=10). The presence of betacellulin in bovine colostrum and milk suggests that it plays a role in the growth and development of the neonate and/or mammary gland function. The results also show that betacellulin is undetectable in the castrated adult male circulation. Additionally, although present in very low amounts, serum betacellulin could be under hormonal regulation in the female, since betacellulin was detected in sera from 27% of the unmated heifers examined in this study. The high levels of betacellulin detected in FBS relative to newborn and adult serum suggests a possible endocrine role for this growth factor in the bovine foetus.
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