MUC1 expression and anti-MUC1 serum immune response in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC): a multivariate analysis

BMC Cancer. 2006 Oct 25:6:253. doi: 10.1186/1471-2407-6-253.


Background: HNSCC progression to adjacent tissue and nodes may be mediated by altered glycoproteins and glycolipids such as MUC1 mucin. This report constitutes a detailed statistical study about MUC1 expression and anti-MUC1 immune responses in relation to different clinical and pathological parameters which may be useful to develop new anti HNSCC therapeutic strategies.

Patients and methods: Fifty three pre treatment HNSCC patients were included: 26 (49.1%) bearing oral cavity tumors, 17 (32.1%) localized in the larynx and 10 (18.8%) in the pharynx. Three patients (5.7%) were at stage I, 5 (9.4%) stage II, 15 (28.3%) stage III and 30 (56.6%) at stage IV. MUC1 tumor expression was studied by immunohistochemistry employing two anti-MUC1 antibodies: CT33, anti cytoplasmic tail MUC1 polyclonal antibody (Ab) and C595 anti-peptidic core MUC1 monoclonal antibody. Serum levels of MUC1 and free anti-MUC1 antibodies were detected by ELISA and circulating immune complexes (CIC) by precipitation in polyethylene glycol (PEG) 3.5%; MUC1 isolation from circulating immune complexes was performed by protein A-sepharose CL-4B affinity chromatography followed by SDS-PAGE and Western blot. Statistical analysis consisted in Multivariate Principal Component Analysis (PCA); ANOVA test (Tukey's test) was employed to find differences among groups; nonparametrical correlations (Kendall's Tau) were applied when necessary. Statistical significance was set to p < 0.05 in all cases.

Results: MUC1 cytoplasmic tail was detected in 40/50 (80%) and MUC1 protein core in 9/50 (18%) samples while serum MUC1 levels were elevated in 8/53 (15%) patients. A significant statistical correlation was found between MUC1 serum levels and anti-MUC1 IgG free antibodies, while a negative correlation between MUC1 serum levels and anti-MUC1 IgM free antibodies was found. Circulating immune complexes were elevated in 16/53 (30%) samples and were also statistically associated with advanced tumor stage. MUC1 was identified as an antigenic component of IgG circulating immune complexes. Moreover, poorly differentiated tumors were inversely correlated with tumor and serum MUC1 detection and positively correlated with node involvement and tumor mass.

Conclusion: Possibly, tumor cells produce MUC1 mucin which is liberated to the circulation and captured by IgG antibodies forming MUC1-IgG-CIC. Another interesting conclusion is that poorly differentiated tumors are inversely correlated with tumor and serum MUC1 detection.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antibodies, Neoplasm / biosynthesis*
  • Antibodies, Neoplasm / blood
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / biosynthesis*
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / genetics
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / immunology*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / blood
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / immunology*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / physiology*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / blood
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / genetics
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immune Sera / biosynthesis*
  • Immune Sera / blood
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mucin-1
  • Mucins / biosynthesis*
  • Mucins / genetics
  • Mucins / immunology*
  • Multivariate Analysis


  • Antibodies, Neoplasm
  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • Immune Sera
  • MUC1 protein, human
  • Mucin-1
  • Mucins