Episialin is a mucin-like molecule located at the apical surface of most glandular epithelial cells. It is present at increased levels in carcinomas, where the molecule is often distributed over the entire cell surface. We have simulated this overproduction of episialin by transfecting a normal mammary epithelial cell line and a melanoma cell line with full-length complementary DNA encoding episialin. Transfectants of both cell lines containing episialin at levels similar to that of carcinoma cell lines do not aggregate as efficiently as their control cells, which do not express exogenous episialin. In mixing experiments, episialin transfectants are excluded from aggregates formed by these control cells, indicating that high levels of episialin on one of the interacting cells is sufficient to inhibit aggregation. The effect of episialin overexpression on aggregation is probably not only due to the negative charge of its numerous sialic acid residues, since neuraminidase treatment only partially restored the aggregation capacity of the transfectants. We propose that episialin, as a result of its large, extended, and rigid structure, can mask most cell surface molecules in its immediate surroundings and that a high density of episialin can severely disturb the interaction of cell surface proteins with macromolecules on adjacent cell membranes.
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