Immunohistochemistry for hMLH1 and hMSH2: a practical test for DNA mismatch repair-deficient tumors

Am J Surg Pathol. 1999 Oct;23(10):1248-55. doi: 10.1097/00000478-199910000-00010.


Inactivation of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) mismatch repair genes, most commonly human mutL homologue 1 (hMLH1) or human mutS homologue 2 (hMSH2), is a recently described alternate pathway in cancer development and progression. The resulting genetic instability is characterized by widespread somatic mutations in tumor DNA, and is termed high-frequency microsatellite instability (MSI-H). Although described in a variety of tumors, mismatch repair deficiency has been studied predominantly in colorectal carcinoma. Most MSI-H colorectal carcinomas are sporadic, but some occur in patients with hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), and are associated with germline mutations in mismatch repair genes. Until now, the identification of MSI-H cancers has required molecular testing. To evaluate the role of immunohistochemistry as a new screening tool for mismatch repair-deficient neoplasms, the authors studied the expression of hMLH1 and hMSH2, using commercially available monoclonal antibodies, in 72 formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tumors that had been tested previously for microsatellite instability. They compared immunohistochemical patterns of 38 MSI-H neoplasms, including 16 cases from HNPCC patients with known germline mutations in hMLH1 or hMSH2, with 34 neoplasms that did not show microsatellite instability. Thirty-seven of 38 MSI-H neoplasms were predicted to have a mismatch repair gene defect, as demonstrated by the absence of hMLH1 and/or hMSH2 expression. This included correspondence with all 16 cases with germline mutations. All 34 microsatellite-stable cancers had intact staining with both antibodies. These findings clearly demonstrate that immunohistochemistry can discriminate accurately between MSI-H and microsatellite-stable tumors, providing a practical new technique with important clinical and research applications.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing
  • Adenocarcinoma / chemistry
  • Adenocarcinoma / genetics*
  • Adenocarcinoma / pathology
  • Adult
  • Base Pair Mismatch / genetics*
  • Carrier Proteins
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / chemistry
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / pathology
  • DNA Repair*
  • DNA, Neoplasm / analysis
  • DNA-Binding Proteins*
  • Genes, DCC / genetics
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / genetics
  • Humans
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques
  • Microsatellite Repeats / genetics
  • MutL Protein Homolog 1
  • MutS Homolog 2 Protein
  • Neoplasm Proteins / analysis*
  • Nuclear Proteins
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / analysis*


  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing
  • Carrier Proteins
  • DNA, Neoplasm
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • MLH1 protein, human
  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • Nuclear Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • MSH2 protein, human
  • MutL Protein Homolog 1
  • MutS Homolog 2 Protein