beta-catenin serves not only as a structural component of the E-cadherin-mediated cell-cell adhesion system, but also as a signaling molecule of the Wnt/wingless pathway. Deregulated expression of beta-catenin and mutations of the gene have been identified in a number of human malignancies. To determine the role of beta-catenin defects in stomach cancer, we investigated beta-catenin exon 3 mutations and altered protein expression in 77 primary gastric carcinomas and 11 cell lines. In addition, the immunohistochemical expression pattern of beta-catenin in 303 consecutive gastric cancers was determined and their relationships with clinicopathologic features and patient outcome were investigated. This study revealed 5% (4 of 77) tumors and 27% (3 of 11) cell lines with beta-catenin gene alteration, 6 missense mutations, and 1 interstitial deletion. These genetic changes were shown to correlate closely with nuclear localization of the protein (p = 0.001). In an immunohistochemical analysis, abnormal expressions of beta-catenin, such as nuclear accumulation and loss of membranous distribution, were detected in 27% (81 of 303) of tumors overall. These altered beta-catenin expressions were more commonly observed in 37% (58 of 158) diffuse type gastric carcinomas (p < 0.001). Loss of membranous beta-catenin staining was associated with poor survival (p = 0.045). In conclusion, our results demonstrate that beta-catenin mutations are common in gastric cancer cell lines but occur infrequently in gastric carcinoma tissues. These mutations are one of the causes of the nuclear accumulation of beta-catenin. Frequent abnormalities of beta-catenin expression in gastric carcinoma support the idea that both structural and signaling functions of the protein play a critical role in gastric carcinogenesis.
Copyright 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.