Comprehensive analysis of HE4 expression in normal and malignant human tissues

Mod Pathol. 2006 Jun;19(6):847-53. doi: 10.1038/modpathol.3800612.


The HE4 (WFDC2) gene encodes a WAP-type four disulphide core domain-containing protein with a presumptive role in natural immunity. Multiple studies have consistently identified upregulation of HE4 gene expression in carcinomas of the ovary; however, the expression in normal and malignant adult tissues has not been examined in detail. Here, we examined the expression of the HE4 gene and protein in a large series of normal and malignant adult tissues by oligonucleotide microarray and tissue microarray, respectively. HE4 gene expression was highest in normal human trachea and salivary gland, and to a lesser extent, lung, prostate, pituitary gland, thyroid, and kidney. In a series of 175 human adult tumors, gene expression was highest in ovarian serous carcinomas. However, adenocarcinomas of the lung, and occasional breast, transitional cell and pancreatic carcinomas had moderate or high levels of HE4 expression. Using tissue microarrays and full tissue sections of normal and 448 neoplastic tissues, HE4 immunoreactivity was found in normal glandular epithelium of the female genital tract and breast, the epididymis and vas deferens, respiratory epithelium, distal renal tubules, colonic mucosa, and salivary glands, consistent with HE4 gene expression. In addition to consistent positivity in ovarian carcinoma, some pulmonary, endometrial, and breast adenocarcinomas, mesotheliomas, and less often, gastrointestinal, renal and transitional cell carcinomas were also positive. Knowledge of the expression patterns of HE4 in our survey is useful for application in histopathologic diagnosis, and should be taken into consideration in future studies that examine the role of HE4 as a serological tumor biomarker or as a target for gene-based therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Epididymal Secretory Proteins / genetics*
  • Epididymal Secretory Proteins / metabolism
  • Female
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique, Indirect
  • Gene Expression Profiling*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic*
  • Humans
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Up-Regulation
  • beta-Defensins


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • DEFB126 protein, human
  • Epididymal Secretory Proteins
  • beta-Defensins