Carcinoembryonic antigen gene family: molecular biology and clinical perspectives

J Clin Lab Anal. 1991;5(5):344-66. doi: 10.1002/jcla.1860050510.


The carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) gene family belongs to the immunoglobulin super-gene family and can be divided into two main subgroups based on sequence comparisons. In humans it is clustered on the long arm of chromosome 19 and consists of approximately 20 genes. The CEA subgroup genes code for CEA and its classical crossreacting antigens, which are mainly membrane-bound, whereas the other subgroup genes encode the pregnancy-specific glycoproteins (PSG), which are secreted. Splice variants of individual genes and differential post-translational modifications of the resulting proteins, e.g., by glycosylation, indicate a high complexity in the number of putative CEA-related molecules. So far, only a limited number of CEA-related antigens in humans have been unequivocally assigned to a specific gene. Rodent CEA-related genes reveal a high sequence divergence and, in part, a completely different domain organization than the human CEA gene family, making it difficult to determine individual gene counterparts. However, rodent CEA-related genes can be assigned to human subgroups based on similarity of expression patterns, which is characteristic for the subgroups. Various functions have been determined for members of the CEA subgroup in vitro, including cell adhesion, bacterial binding, an accessory role for collagen binding or ecto-ATPases activity. Based on all that is known so far on its biology, the clinical outlook for the CEA family has been reassessed.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Carcinoembryonic Antigen / classification
  • Carcinoembryonic Antigen / genetics*
  • Carcinoembryonic Antigen / immunology
  • Chromosomes, Human, Pair 19
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / physiology
  • Humans
  • Molecular Biology
  • Molecular Sequence Data


  • Carcinoembryonic Antigen