Human MUC1 mucin: a multifaceted glycoprotein

Int J Biol Markers. Oct-Dec 2000;15(4):343-56.


Human MUC1 mucin, a membrane-bound glycoprotein, is a major component of the ductal cell surface of normal glandular cells. MUC1 is overexpressed and aberrantly glycosylated in carcinoma cells. The role MUC1 plays in cancer progression represents two sides of one coin: on the one hand, loss of polarity and overexpression of MUC1 in cancer cells interferes with cell adhesion and shields the tumor cell from immune recognition by the cellular arm of the immune system, thus favoring metastases; on the other hand, MUC1, in essence a self-antigen, is displaced and altered in malignancy and induces immune responses. Tumor-associated MUC1 has short carbohydrate sidechains and exposed epitopes on its peptide core; it gains access to the circulation and comes into contact with the immune system provoking humoral and cellular immune responses. Natural antibodies to MUC1 present in the circulation of cancer patients may be beneficial to the patient by restricting tumor growth and dissemination: early stage breast cancer patients with a humoral response to MUC1 have a better disease-specific survival. Several MUC1 peptide vaccines, differing in vectors, carrier proteins and adjuvants, have been tested in phase I clinical trials. They are capable of inducing predominantly humoral responses to the antigen, but evidence that these immune responses may be effective against the tumor in humans is still scarce.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cancer Vaccines / therapeutic use
  • Cell Adhesion / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy
  • Male
  • Mucin-1* / physiology
  • Mucin-1* / therapeutic use
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / therapy


  • Cancer Vaccines
  • Mucin-1