Background: In vitro cell culture experiments with primary cells have reported that cell proliferation is retarded in the presence of ambient compared to physiological O2 levels. Cancer is primarily a disease of aberrant cell proliferation, therefore, studying cancer cells grown under ambient O2 may be undesirable. To understand better the impact of O2 on the propagation of cancer cells in vitro, we compared the growth potential of a panel of ovarian cancer cell lines under ambient (21%) or physiological (3%) O2. Principal Findings: Our observations demonstrate that similar to primary cells, many cancer cells maintain an inherent sensitivity to O2, but some display insensitivity to changes in O2 concentration. Further analysis revealed an association between defective G2/M cell cycle transition regulation and O2 insensitivity resultant from overexpression of 14-3-3 σ. Targeting 14-3-3 σ overexpression with RNAi restored O2 sensitivity in these cell lines. Additionally, we found that metastatic ovarian tumors frequently overexpress 14-3-3 σ, which in conjunction with phosphorylated RB, results in poor prognosis. Conclusions: Cancer cells show differential proliferative sensitivity to changes in O2 concentration. Although a direct link between O2 insensitivity and metastasis was not determined, this investigation showed that an O2 insensitive phenotype in cancer cells to correlate with metastatic tumor progression.
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