Background: The class III beta-tubulin isotype (betaIII) is widely regarded as a neuronal marker in development and neoplasia. In previous work, we have shown that the expression of betaIII in neuronal/neuroblastic tumors is differentiation dependent. In contrast, the aberrant localization of this isotype in certain nonneuronal neoplasms, such as epithelial neuroendocrine lung tumors, is associated with anaplastic potential.
Objective: To test the generality of this observation, we investigated the immunoreactivity profile of betaIII in astrocytomas.
Design: Sixty archival, surgically excised astrocytomas (8 pilocytic astrocytomas, WHO grade 1; 18 diffuse fibrillary astrocytomas, WHO grade 2; 4 anaplastic astrocytomas, WHO grade 3; and 30 glioblastomas, WHO grade 4), were studied by immunohistochemistry using anti-betaIII monoclonal (TuJ1) and polyclonal antibodies. A monoclonal antibody to Ki-67 nuclear antigen (NC-MM1) was used as a marker for cell proliferation. Antibodies to glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) and BM89 synaptic vesicle antigen/synaptophysin were used as glial and neuronal markers, respectively.
Results: The betaIII immunoreactivity was significantly greater in high-grade astrocytomas (anaplastic astrocytomas and glioblastomas; median labeling index [MLI], 35%; interquartile range [IQR], 20%-47%) as compared with diffuse fibrillary astrocytomas (MLI, 4%; IQR, 0.2%-21%) (P <.0001) and was rarely detectable in pilocytic astrocytomas (MLI, 0%; IQR, 0%-0.5%) (P <.0001 vs high-grade astrocytomas; P <.01 vs diffuse fibrillary astrocytomas). A highly significant, grade-dependent relationship was observed between betaIII and Ki-67 labeling and malignancy, but this association was stronger for Ki-67 than for betaIII (betaIII, P <.006; Ki-67, P <.0001). There was co-localization of betaIII and GFAP in neoplastic astrocytes, but no BM89 synaptic vesicle antigen/synaptophysin staining was detected.
Conclusions: In the context of astrocytic gliomas, betaIII immunoreactivity is associated with an ascending gradient of malignancy and thus may be a useful ancillary diagnostic marker. However, the significance of betaIII-positive phenotypes in diffuse fibrillary astrocytomas with respect to prognostic and predictive value requires further evaluation. Under certain neoplastic conditions, betaIII expression is not neuron specific, calling for a cautious interpretation of betaIII-positive phenotypes in brain tumors.