Expression of mucins (MUC1, MUC2, MUC3, MUC4, MUC5AC and MUC6) and their prognostic significance in human breast cancer

Mod Pathol. 2005 Oct;18(10):1295-304. doi: 10.1038/modpathol.3800445.


Mucins are a large family of glycoproteins expressed by many epithelial cells and their malignant counterparts. Much interest has been focused on expression of its members in breast cancer because of their potential role as prognostic indicators and their involvement in cancer therapy. We have examined 1447 cases of invasive breast carcinoma with a long-term follow-up, using tissue microarray (TMA) technology and immunohistochemistry to evaluate the expression profiles of several mucins (MUC1, MUC2, MUC3, MUC4, MUC5AC and MUC6) and to assess their prognostic value. We detected MUC1 expression in 91% of tumours. MUC1 overexpression was associated with a lower grade, smaller tumour size, a higher oestrogen receptor (ER)-positive phenotype and absence of both regional recurrence and distance metastasis. The subcellular localization but not the level of expression had a prognostic value in predicting outcome. The aberrant cytoplasmic and membranous localization of MUC1 was associated with poor outcome compared with apical localization, which is the normal physiological site of expression. MUC2 expression was noticed in only 8.3% of all cases and was restricted to the cytoplasm of the tumour cells. An inverse trend was identified between MUC2 expression and lymph node stage and vascular invasion status. On excluding cases of mucinous carcinoma from the analysis, the inverse association with vascular invasion was still defined and in addition an inverse association with ER status emerged. MUC3 expression was detected in 91% of cases and its expression was associated with increased local recurrence, and lymph node stage. The membranous expression of MUC3 was found to be a potentially poor prognostic feature, with higher grade and poorer Nottingham Prognostic Index (NPI), and negative ER expression. MUC4, MUC5AC and MUC6 were expressed in 95, 37 and 20% of cases, respectively. Apart from an association between MUC4 expression and tumour grade and between MUC6 and ER-negative tumours, no other associations with any clinicopathological variables were found. Apart from the higher expression of MUC2 and MUC6 in mucinous carcinomas, no association was found between the expression of different mucins and tumour type. No association between the level of expression of any of the studied mucins and patient outcomes has been identified. In conclusion, most breast carcinomas express MUC1, MUC3 and MUC4. Among the various mucins expressed in breast cancer, MUC1 and MUC3 are potential prognostic indicators, MUC1 having the strongest relationship with patient outcome.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Middle Aged
  • Mucin 5AC
  • Mucin-1 / biosynthesis
  • Mucin-2
  • Mucin-3
  • Mucin-6
  • Mucins / biosynthesis*
  • Prognosis
  • Tissue Array Analysis


  • MUC2 protein, human
  • MUC5AC protein, human
  • MUC6 protein, human
  • Mucin 5AC
  • Mucin-1
  • Mucin-2
  • Mucin-3
  • Mucin-6
  • Mucins