The role of CD146 (Mel-CAM) in biology and pathology

J Pathol. 1999 Sep;189(1):4-11. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1096-9896(199909)189:1<4::AID-PATH332>3.0.CO;2-P.


CD146, also known as Mel-CAM, MUC18, A32 antigen, and S-Endo-1, is a membrane glycoprotein which functions as a Ca(2+)-independent cell adhesion molecule involved in heterophilic cell-cell interactions. Based on homology of the nucleotide sequence, CD146 is classified as a member of the immunoglobulin gene superfamily, since it contains the characteristic V-V-C2-C2-C2 immunoglobulin-like domain structure. Using immunohistochemistry with CD146-specific antibodies, CD146 expression has been demonstrated in a relatively limited spectrum of normal human tissues and malignant neoplasms. The lineage-specific expression pattern of CD146 can be useful in the differential diagnosis of certain lesions including melanomas and various types of gestational trophoblastic lesions. Although the biological role of CD146 in normal tissue and malignant tumours remains unclear, CD146 has been suggested to play an important role in tumour progression, implantation and placentation. CD146 expression can promote tumour progression in human melanoma, possibly through enhanced interaction between melanoma cells and endothelial cells. In contrast, CD146 may act as a tumour suppressor in breast carcinoma. CD146 expression is frequently lost in breast carcinomas and overexpression of CD146 in breast carcinoma cells results in a more cohesive cell growth and the formation of smaller tumours in nude mice. During implantation and placentation, CD146 expressed by the intermediate trophoblast in the placental site binds to its putative receptor in uterine smooth muscle cells and limits trophoblastic invasion in the myometrium. In conclusion, CD146 is a recently identified novel cell adhesion molecule and its biological functions and role as a diagnostic marker in pathology are now being recognized. Identification of the receptor for CD146 and the development of experimental models that can account for the complex interactions between CD146-expressing cells and their microenvironment are needed to investigate further the functions of this molecule in biology and in pathological states.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Antigens, CD*
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / genetics
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / physiology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / immunology
  • CD146 Antigen
  • Disease Progression
  • Embryo Implantation
  • Female
  • Fetus / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Melanoma / immunology
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / genetics
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Neural Cell Adhesion Molecules*
  • Pregnancy
  • Tissue Distribution
  • Trophoblastic Tumor, Placental Site / immunology
  • Trophoblasts / immunology


  • Antigens, CD
  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • CD146 Antigen
  • MCAM protein, human
  • Mcam protein, mouse
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Neural Cell Adhesion Molecules