The differential cellular expression of class III beta-tubulin isotype (betaIII) is reviewed in the context of human embryological development and neoplasia. As compared to somatic organs and tissues, betaIII is abundant in the central and peripheral nervous systems (CNS and PNS) where it is prominently expressed during fetal and postnatal development. As exemplified in cerebellar and sympathoadrenal neurogenesis, the distribution of betaIII is neuron-associated, exhibiting distinct temporospatial gradients according to the regional neuroepithelia of origin. However, transient expression of this protein is also present in the subventricular zones of the CNS comprising putative neuronal- and/or glial precursor cells, as well as in Kulchitsky neuroendocrine cells of the fetal respiratory epithelium. This temporally restricted, potentially non-neuronal expression may have implications in the identification of presumptive neurons derived from embryonic stem cells. In adult tissues, the distribution of betaIII is almost exclusively neuron-specific. Altered patterns of expression are noted in cancer. In "embryonal"- and "adult-type" neuronal tumors of the CNS and PNS, betaIII is associated with neuronal differentiation and decreased cell proliferation. In contrast, the presence of betaIII in gliomas and lung cancer is associated with an ascending histological grade of malignancy. Thus, betaIII expression in neuronal tumors is differentiation-dependent, while in non-neuronal tumors it is aberrant and/or represents "dedifferentiation" associated with the acquisition of progenitor-like phenotypic properties. Increased expression in various epithelial cancer cell lines is associated with chemoresistance to taxanes. Because betaIII is present in subpopulations of neoplastic, but not in normal differentiated glial or somatic epithelial cells, the elucidation of mechanisms responsible for the altered expression of this isotype may provide insights into the role of the microtubule cytoskeleton in tumorigenesis and tumor progression.
Copyright 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.