To determine the relative expression of distinct mucin genes in normal and neoplastic tissue, antibodies and cDNA probes that recognize the core tandem repeat sequences of membrane-bound (MUC1) and secreted (MUC2 and MUC3) mucins were used for immunohistochemical and RNA Northern and slot-blot analysis. MUC1 mRNA was detected in all epithelial tissues tested. MUC1 core peptide, recognized by monoclonal antibodies 139H2 and DF3, was highly expressed on apical membranes of bronchus, breast, salivary gland, pancreas, prostate, and uterus, and was sparsely expressed in gastric surface cells, gallbladder, small intestine, and colonic epithelium. In contrast, MUC2 and MUC3 gene expression was primarily restricted to the intestinal tract. MUC2 mRNA was highly expressed in normal jejunum, ileum, and colon, compared with very low levels in normal bronchus and gallbladder. MUC3 mRNA was highly expressed in normal jejunum, ileum, colon, and gallbladder. Immunohistochemical studies using antibodies against synthetic MUC2 (anti-MRP) and MUC3 (anti-M3P) peptides indicate that MUC2- and MUC3-producing cells in the gastrointestinal tract are distinct. Goblet cells of the small intestine and colon reacted strongly with anti-MRP, whereas M3P reactivity was restricted to columnar cells of small intestinal villi, surface colonic epithelium, and gallbladder. Mucin protein epitopes and mRNA levels were frequently altered in adenocarcinomas compared to corresponding normal tissues. Alterations included increased expression, aberrant expression, and, less frequently, loss of expression. Increased MUC1 immunoreactivity was observed in most adenocarcinomas of the breast, lung, stomach, pancreas, prostrate, and ovary. In addition, with the exception of prostrate cancer, focal aberrant expression of MUC2 and MUC3 epitopes was frequently observed. Increased MUC1, MUC2, and MUC3 epitopes were present in colon adenocarcinomas of all histological subtypes, with the greatest increase of MUC2 epitopes observed in colloid (mucinous) colon cancers. MUC2 or MUC3 mRNA levels were increased in colloid colon cancer compared with normal colon, however in well- and moderately well-differentiated colon cancers MUC1, 2 and 3 mRNA levels were decreased. Compared with corresponding normal tissue, MUC1 mRNA levels were increased in breast cancer and well-differentiated lung cancers, and MUC3 mRNA was increased in gastric adenocarcinomas. Normal stomach lacked both MUC2 and MUC3 immunoreactivity and mRNA, however, MUC2 and MUC3 proteins and mRNA were highly expressed in gastric intestinal metaplasia. In conclusion, mucin genes are independently regulated and their expression is organ- and cell type-specific. Furthermore, neoplastic transformation is associated with dysregulated expression of both membrane-bound and secreted mucin core protein epitopes and may be due to altered mucin mRNA levels and/or altered mucin glycosylation.


This work was supported by a Veterans Administration Associate Investigator Award and Research Advisory Group Grant (S. B. H.), a Veterans Administration Medical Investigator Award (Y. S. K.), and the Research Service of the Veterans Administration.

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