The alkaline phosphatase (AP) synthesized by human tumor cells closely resembles human placental AP (PLAP). Little is known about the molecular events that lead to the expression of a placenta-like AP in tumor cells. The complementary DNA encoding the AP expressed by a choriocarcinoma cell line, BeWo, was isolated and characterized. The complementary DNA is the product of the germ cell AP (Nagao isozyme) gene and not of the term PLAP gene. Like placental AP, the tumor AP can be released from the cell membrane by a phosphaditylinositol-specific phospholipase C and has a phosphaditylinositol-glycan (PI-glycan) moiety at the COOH terminus. Immunoprecipitation of phosphaditylinositol-specific phospholipase C-treated AP and analysis by polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis or isoelectric focusing demonstrates that at least 95% of the AP contains PI-glycan. Two-dimensional gel electrophoresis reveals two precursors of the mature AP. One of these does not bind an antibody against the Trypanosoma variable surface glycoprotein cross-reacting determinant and probably does not contain PI-glycan. This precursor had a shorter half-life than the more prominent PI-glycan-containing precursor in pulse-chase experiments, suggesting a precursor-product relationship between the two proteins. These data demonstrate that BeWo AP is the product of a gene normally expressed in testis, thymus, and germ cells, but not in placenta. Thus, the expression of BeWo AP results from the repression of the PLAP gene and derepression of the germ cell AP gene and, as such, the expression is ectopic. The BeWo AP (Nagao isozyme) is modified with PI-glycan that is added soon after translation, not cotranslationally.

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