The glycoprotein gp38 is overexpressed in 90% of ovarian carcinomas and recognized by monoclonal antibodies MOv18 and MOv19. This molecule is a high affinity folate binding protein (FBP) and a potential marker for ovarian carcinoma. We have developed a model to investigate the biochemical and biological properties of this folate receptor by transfecting NIH/3T3 cells, which do not endogenously express FBP, with a vector containing the complementary DNA for the gp38 cloned from the ovarian carcinoma cell line IGROV1. The FBP expressed shows features identical to those of the protein produced by IGROV1 cell. The FBP is expressed on the cell membrane in a glycosylphosphatidylinositol-linked form, since it is released by treatment with phosphatidylinositol-specific phospholipase C, and is shed into the culture medium of the NIH/3T3 transfectants. Immunoblot analysis with MAbs MOv18 and MOv19 showed that both the glycosylphosphatidylinositol-linked and the soluble FBP migrate at the same apparent molecular weight as the respective IGROV1 proteins. The FBP-transfected NIH/3T3 cells bound folic acid and internalized about 30-fold more folic acid than mock-transfected cells. Growth analysis revealed that FBP-transfected NIH/3T3 cells like IGROV1 maintained their growth rate after 10 days of culture in medium containing physiological or low folate concentration, and tumors arising after transplanting FBP-tNIH/3T3 cells in nude mice were 3-fold heavier than those arising after transplantation of non-FBP-expressing NIH/3T3 cells. These results suggest a correlation between human ovarian carcinoma growth and FBP overexpression.

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This work was partially supported by Associazione Italiana per la Ricerca sul Cancro.

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