Placental lactogen is expressed but is not translated into protein in breast cancer

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INTRODUCTION: Several studies reported that the pregnancy-specific hormone placental lactogen (hPL) is expressed at both mRNA and protein levels in breast cancer. The overall objective was to establish hPL, the product of the CSH1 and CSH2 genes, as a biomarker for breast cancer.<br /><br />METHODS: CSH expression was determined at the mRNA level in breast cancer cell lines (BCC) and primary carcinomas by real-time and conventional PCR and the products verified as CSH1 by sequencing. Expression of hPL protein was examined by western blots and immuno-histochemistry, using commercial and custom-made polyclonal and monoclonal antibodies.<br /><br />RESULTS: Variable levels of CSH mRNA were detected in several BCC, and in some primary tumors. We detected a protein, slightly larger than recombinant hPL by western blotting using several antibodies, leading us to postulate that it represents an hPL variant ('hPL'). Furthermore, some monoclonal antibodies detected 'hPL' by immunohistochemistry in breast carcinomas but not in normal breast. However, further examination revealed that these antibodies were non-specific, as efficient suppression of CSH mRNA by shRNA did not abolish the 'hPL' band. Custom-made monoclonal antibodies against recombinant hPL detected hPL of the correct size in placental lysate and hPL-overexpressing BCC, but not in unmodified cells or primary carcinomas. hPL protein was detected only when mRNA was increased several thousand fold.<br /><br />CONCLUSIONS: We call into question previous reports of hPL expression in breast cancer which relied on mRNA levels as surrogates for protein and/or used improperly validated antibodies to measure hPL protein levels. Our data suggests that an inhibitory mechanism(s) prevents translation of CSH mRNA in breast cancer when not highly expressed. The mechanism by which translation of CSH mRNA is inhibited is intriguing and should be further investigated.




Tuttle, T. R., Hugo, E. R., Tong, W. S., & Ben-Jonathan, N. (2014). Placental lactogen is expressed but is not translated into protein in breast cancer. PLoS ONE, 9(1).

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