Rat Muc4 (sialomucin complex) reduces binding of anti-ErbB2 antibodies to tumor cell surfaces, a potential mechanism for herceptin resistance

Int J Cancer. 2002 Jun 20;99(6):783-91. doi: 10.1002/ijc.10410.


Muc4 (also called sialomucin complex), the rat homolog of human MUC4, is a heterodimeric glycoprotein complex that consists of a peripheral O-glycosylated mucin subunit, ASGP-1, tightly but noncovalently linked to a N-glycosylated transmembrane subunit, ASGP-2. The complex is expressed in a number of normal, vulnerable epithelial tissues, including mammary gland, uterus, colon, cornea and trachea. Muc4/SMC is also overexpressed or aberrantly expressed on a number of human tumors including breast tumors. Overexpression of Muc4/SMC has been shown to block cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions, protect tumor cells from immune surveillance and promote metastasis. In addition, as a ligand for ErbB2, Muc4/SMC can potentiate phosphorylation of ErbB2 and potentially alter signals generated from this receptor. Using A375 human melanoma cells and MCF7 human breast adenocarcinoma cells stably transfected with tetracycline regulatable Muc4, we have investigated whether overexpression of Muc4/SMC can repress antibody binding to cell surface-expressed ErbB2. Overexpression of Muc4/SMC does not affect the level of ErbB2 expression in either cell line, but it does reduce binding of a number of anti-ErbB2 antibodies, including Herceptin. Interestingly, overexpression of ErbB2 does not block binding of other unrelated antibodies of the same isotype, suggesting that the reduction in ErbB2 antibody binding is due to complex formation of Muc4/SMC and ErbB2. Furthermore, capping of Muc4/SMC with anti-Muc4/SMC antibodies reduces antibody binding to ErbB2 instead of increasing binding, again suggesting that reduced antibody binding to ErbB2 is due to steric hindrance from complex formation of Muc4/SMC and ErbB2. Thus, overexpression of Muc4/SMC on tumor cells may have both prognostic and therapeutic relevance.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / metabolism*
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Antineoplastic Agents / metabolism*
  • Blotting, Western
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques
  • Melanoma / metabolism*
  • Mucin-4
  • Mucins / physiology*
  • Precipitin Tests
  • Rats
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / immunology*
  • Transfection
  • Trastuzumab
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • MUC4 protein, human
  • Muc4 protein, rat
  • Mucin-4
  • Mucins
  • Receptor, ErbB-2
  • Trastuzumab