MUC16 mucin is expressed by the human ocular surface epithelia and carries the H185 carbohydrate epitope

Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2003 Jun;44(6):2487-95. doi: 10.1167/iovs.02-0862.


Purpose: H185 antibody has been shown to recognize a carbohydrate epitope on a membrane-associated mucin in the apical surfaces of the corneal and conjunctival epithelia. The distribution of this antibody is altered on the surfaces of conjunctival epithelial cells of dry eye patients. The purpose of this work was to determine whether the H185 antibody recognizes the recently cloned membrane-associated mucin MUC16 (formerly CA125 antigen).

Methods: To determine whether ocular surface epithelia express MUC16, the relative expression of the MUC16 mucin gene was determined by real-time PCR on reverse transcription products from RNA isolated from human corneal and conjunctival tissues, as well as from immortalized human corneal-limbal epithelial cell (HCLE) cultures. To determine the distribution of MUC16 mRNA and protein in the ocular surface epithelia, in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry were performed on sections of corneal and conjunctival epithelia using, respectively, a MUC16 antisense oligoprobe and the antibodies OC125, VK-8, and R16 raised against the MUC16 mucin. Determination of whether MUC1 and MUC16 mucins carry the H185 carbohydrate epitope was achieved with the respective mucins isolated from HCLE protein extracts, using one- or two-step immunoprecipitation assays and immunodepletion experiments followed by Western blot analysis.

Results: MUC16 mucin transcripts were detected in the human ocular surface epithelia and in corneal cell cultures. MUC16 mRNA and protein localized to the apical cell layers of the cornea and to the suprabasal region of the conjunctival epithelium. In HCLE cultures, MUC16 protein was detected in apical cells of islands of stratified cells. Immunofluorescence microscopy demonstrated exact colocalization of the MUC16 mucin and the H185 carbohydrate epitope in sections of human corneal tissue. Immunoprecipitated MUC16 mucin was recognized by the H185 antibody and vice versa, indicating that MUC16 mucin carries the H185 epitope. Immunodepletion with H185 antibody resulted in no OC125 antibody reactivity. No cross-reactivity between immunoprecipitated MUC1 and the H185 antibody was observed.

Conclusions: This study demonstrates that the membrane-associated mucin MUC16 is expressed by the human ocular surface epithelia and that MUC16 carries the H185 carbohydrate epitope. Future studies on the expression of MUC16 and the characterization of the molecular structure of the H185 carbohydrate epitope will determine their biological significance on the healthy ocular surface and in dry eye syndrome.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Blotting, Western
  • CA-125 Antigen / genetics*
  • CA-125 Antigen / metabolism
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Conjunctiva / cytology
  • Conjunctiva / metabolism*
  • Cornea / cytology
  • Cornea / metabolism*
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism*
  • Epitopes / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression
  • Humans
  • In Situ Hybridization
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Mucins / metabolism*
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • CA-125 Antigen
  • Epitopes
  • MUC16 protein, human
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Mucins
  • RNA, Messenger