MUC18, a Melanoma-Progression Associated Molecule, and Its Potential Role in Tumor Vascularization and Hematogenous Spread

  • Sere C
  • Riethmüller G
  • Johnson J
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The MUC18 protein, a member of the immunoglobulin superfamily and related to several adhesion molecules, shows an expression pattern in human malignant melanoma which is closely associated with tumor progression and the onset of metastasis. To determine the expression pattern of MUC18 in normal human tissues, immunohistochemical analysis was performed on frozen sections of a variety of normal human tissues using monoclonal antibodies against three different epitopes. This analysis showed that expression of MUC18 is limited to smooth muscle cells and to vascular endothelium. No reactivity could be observed with epithelial cells or with quiescent or activated hemopoetic cells. Smooth muscle cells in lung, skin, and in the gastrointestinal tract express MUC18 as does vascular smooth muscle, whereas myocardium or skeletal muscle appeared negative. Comparison of MUC18 staining with that of the panendothelial marker CD31 showed that MUC18 is expressed on the endothelia of a subset of blood capillaries and in tumor vessels but is absent on the endothelium of arterial vessels and large veins. The regulation of MUC18 expression was investigated in vascular smooth muscle cells and endothelial cells cultured in vitro. These studies revealed induction of the gene in endothelial cells upon proliferation. The observation that the MUC18 protein is not only present on melanoma cells but also on the endothelia of blood vessels penetrating primary and metastatic melanomas suggests a complex involvement of this potential cell adhesion molecule in tumor angiogenesis and metastasis.

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  • Christine Sere

  • Gert Riethmüller

  • Judith P. Johnson

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