Expression of the HER-2/neu proto-oncogene in normal human adult and fetal tissues

Oncogene. 1990 Jul;5(7):953-62.


The HER-2/neu proto-oncogene is homologous with, but distinct from, the epidermal growth factor receptor. Current evidence indicates that this gene is frequently amplified and/or overexpressed in some human breast and ovarian cancers and that these alterations may be clinically important; however, little is known about the expression pattern of the gene in normal tissues. Using immunohistochemistry and northern blot analyses to identify the HER-2/neu protein and transcript respectively, we have evaluated a variety of normal adult and fetal tissues for HER-2/neu expression. HER-2/neu protein was identified on cell membranes of epithelial cells in the gastro-intestinal, respiratory, reproductive, and urinary tract as well as in the skin, breast and placenta. Northern hybridization confirmed the presence of the 4.5 kb transcript encoding the protein in these tissues. The amount of HER-2/neu message and protein was generally higher in fetal tissues than in the corresponding normal adult tissues. HER-2/neu expression levels in these normal tissues were similar to the levels found in non-amplified, non-overexpressing breast cancers and breast cancer cell lines. Southern hybridization of extracted DNA showed that none of the normal tissues expressing HER-2/neu had amplification of the gene. These results confirm that HER-2/neu is normally a membrane constituent of a variety of epithelial cell types.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Blotting, Northern
  • Blotting, Southern
  • Breast / embryology
  • Breast / metabolism
  • Female
  • Gene Expression
  • Genes
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / metabolism*
  • Receptor, ErbB-2
  • Respiratory System / embryology
  • Respiratory System / metabolism
  • Skin / embryology
  • Skin / metabolism
  • Tissue Distribution
  • Urogenital System / embryology
  • Urogenital System / metabolism


  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Receptor, ErbB-2