We determined the expression of a newly recognized drug resistance gene, the multidrug resistance-associated protein (MRP) gene, [Cole et al., Science (Washington DC), 258: 1650-1654, 1992], in normal human tissues and in >370 human tumor biopsies using a quantitative RNase protection assay and immunohistochemistry. MRP mRNA appeared to be ubiquitously expressed at low levels in all normal tissues, including peripheral blood, the endocrine glands (adrenal and thyroid), striated muscle, the lymphoreticular system (spleen and tonsil), the digestive tract (salivary gland, esophagus, liver, gall bladder, pancreas, and colon), the respiratory tract (lung), and the urogenital tract (kidney, bladder, testis, and ovary). The human cancers analyzed could be divided into three groups with regard to MRP expression. Group 1 consists of tumors that often exhibit high to very high MRP mRNA levels (e.g., chronic lymphocytic leukemia). Group 2 comprises the tumors that often exhibit low, but occasionally exhibit high MRP mRNA expression (e.g., esophagus squamous cell carcinoma, non-small cell lung cancer, and acute myelocytic leukemia). Group 3 comprises the tumors with predominantly low levels of MRP mRNA, comparable to the levels found in normal tissues (e.g., other hematological malignancies, soft tissue sarcomas, melanoma, and cancers of the prostate, breast, kidney, bladder, testis, ovary, and colon). Using the MRP-specific mAbs MRPr1 and MRPm6, we confirmed the elevated MRP mRNA levels in tumor tissues by immunohistochemistry. We conclude that hyperexpression of MRP is observed in several human cancers, and that additional studies are needed to assess the clinical relevance of MRP.

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