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BACKGROUND: Macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF) was recently rediscovered as a cytokine, pituitary hormone, and glucocorticoid-induced immunomodulator. MIF is constitutively expressed in various cells and enhances production of inflammatory cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha, interleukin-1, and interferon gamma. Recently, it was reported that MIF mRNA was overexpressed in prostatic tumors, which suggests that MIF is a protein involved in tumor cell growth beyond inflammatory and immune responses. MATERIALS AND METHODS: We examined the expression of MIF in the murine colon carcinoma cell line colon 26 by Western and Northern blot analyses and immunohistochemistry. Next, we investigated the effects of transforming growth factor (TGF) beta, basic fibroblast growth factor (b-FGF), and platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) on the expression of MIF mRNA. Furthermore, we examined whether MIF is involved in tumor cell proliferation, using an MIF anti-sense plasmid transfection technique. RESULTS: We demonstrated that MIF protein and its mRNA were highly expressed in colon 26 cells, using Western and Northern blot analyses, respectively. By immunohistochemical analysis, we found that MIF was localized largely in the cytoplasm of the tumor cells. In response to TGF-beta, b-FGF, and PDGF, MIF mRNA expression was significantly up-regulated. Following this, we transfected the cells with an anti-sense MIF plasmid, which revealed that this treatment induced significant suppression of cell proliferation. CONCLUSION: Although MIF plays multifunctional roles in a broad spectrum of pathophysiological states, little has been done to investigate the role of this protein in association with tumor growth. The current results suggest the possibility that MIF induces tumor cell growth in concert with other growth factors, which encouraged us to investigate a novel approach for tumor therapy using an anti-MIF antibody and an MIF anti-sense plasmid transfection technique.