Ovarian cancer is a highly lethal disease with metastases present in the majority of patients at the time of diagnosis. The molecular mechanisms underlying the metastatic process of this cancer are not well understood. One family of cell-associated and secreted glycoproteins, the mucin glycoproteins, has been implicated in events leading to metastasis of several epithelial cancers including gastrointestinal and lung cancers. The purpose of this study was to characterize mucin gene expression in ovarian cancers and relate expression to tumor histology, stage, and patient survival. RNA was isolated from 29 epithelial ovarian cancers, 1 neuroendocrine carcinoma, 3 mixed mesodermal tumors, and two transformed, yet nonmalignant, ovarian epithelial cell lines. The expression of mucin genes, MUC1, 2, 3, 4, 5AC and 5B, was determined by northern analyses. Epithelial ovarian cancers expressed several mucins including MUC1, 2, 4, and 5AC; MUC3 and 5B were rarely expressed. In contrast, the transformed nonmalignant ovarian epithelial cell lines expressed only MUC1 and 5AC. Although there was no correlation of mucin expression with tumor histology, there was a significant decrease in expression of MUC3 and MUC4 with increasing cancer stage (P < 0.05). In addition, a trend toward improved patient survival occurred with increased expression of MUC4. These observations suggest a relationship between mucin gene expression and the metastatic process in epithelial ovarian cancers. Additional investigation of MUC3 and MUC4 in ovarian cancers may lead to new approaches for early detection and therapy.


This work was supported in part by the American Cancer Society Clinical Oncology Career Development Award 95-85-97 to (G. C. R.) and by NIH Grant R29HL50694 (to J. A. V).

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