Structure, evolution, and biology of the MUC4 mucin

FASEB J. 2008 Apr;22(4):966-81. doi: 10.1096/fj.07-9673rev. Epub 2007 Nov 16.


Mucins are high-molecular-weight glycoproteins and are implicated in diverse biological functions. MUC4, a member of transmembrane mucin family, is expressed in airway epithelial cells and body fluids like saliva, tear film, ear fluid, and breast milk. In addition to its normal expression, an aberrant expression of MUC4 has been reported in a variety of carcinomas. Among various potential domains of MUC4, epidermal growth factor (EGF) -like domains are hypothesized to interact with and activate the ErbB2 receptors, suggesting an intramembrane-growth factor function for MUC4. The heavily glycosylated tandem repeat domain provides the structural rigidity to the extended extracellular region. MUC4, by virtue of its extended structure, serves as a barrier for some cell-cell and cell-extracellular matrix interactions and as a potential reservoir for certain growth factors. An intricate relationship between MUC4 and growth factor signaling is also reflected in the transcriptional regulation of MUC4. The MUC4 promoter has binding sites for different transcription factors, which are responsible for the regulation of its expression in different tissues. The interferon-gamma, retinoic acid, and transforming growth factor-beta signaling pathways regulate MUC4 expression in a partially interdependent manner. Taken together, all of these features of MUC4 strongly support its role as a potential candidate for diagnostic and therapeutic applications in cancer and other diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mucin-4
  • Mucins / chemistry*
  • Mucins / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Protein Isoforms / chemistry
  • Protein Isoforms / metabolism
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Signal Transduction
  • Species Specificity
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • MUC4 protein, human
  • Mucin-4
  • Mucins
  • Protein Isoforms