The expression of the human Ki-67 protein is strictly associated with cell proliferation. During interphase, the antigen can be exclusively detected within the nucleus, whereas in mitosis most of the protein is relocated to the surface of the chromosomes. The fact that the Ki-67 protein is present during all active phases of the cell cycle (G(1), S, G(2), and mitosis), but is absent from resting cells (G(0)), makes it an excellent marker for determining the so-called growth fraction of a given cell population. In the first part of this study, the term proliferation marker is discussed and examples of the applications of anti-Ki-67 protein antibodies in diagnostics of human tumors are given. The fraction of Ki-67-positive tumor cells (the Ki-67 labeling index) is often correlated with the clinical course of the disease. The best-studied examples in this context are carcinomas of the prostate and the breast. For these types of tumors, the prognostic value for survival and tumor recurrence has repeatedly been proven in uni- and multivariate analysis. The preparation of new monoclonal antibodies that react with the Ki-67 equivalent protein from rodents now extends the use of the Ki-67 protein as a proliferation marker to laboratory animals that are routinely used in basic research. The second part of this review focuses on the biology of the Ki-67 protein. Our current knowledge of the Ki-67 gene and protein structure, mRNA splicing, expression, and cellular localization during the cell-division cycle is summarized and discussed. Although the Ki-67 protein is well characterized on the molecular level and extensively used as a proliferation marker, the functional significance still remains unclear. There are indications, however, that Ki-67 protein expression is an absolute requirement for progression through the cell-division cycle.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.