Mucins are high molecular weight glycoproteins that play important roles in carcinogenesis and tumor invasion. Our immunohistochemical studies demonstrated that MUC1 or MUC4 expression is related to the aggressive behavior and poor outcome of human neoplasms. MUC2 is expressed in indolent pancreatobiliary neoplasms, but these tumors sometimes show invasive growth with MUC1 expression in invasive areas. MUC5AC shows de novo high expression in many types of precancerous lesions of pancreatobiliary cancers and is an effective marker for early detection of the neoplasms. The combination of MUC1, MUC2, MUC4 and MUC5AC expression may be useful for early detection and evaluation of the potential for malignancy of pancreatobiliary neoplasms. Regarding the mechanism of mucin expression, we have recently reported that expression of the mucin genes is regulated epigenetically in cancer cell lines, using quantitative MassARRAY analysis, methylation-specific polymerase chain reaction analysis and chromatin immunoprecipitation analysis, with confirmation by the treatment with 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine and trichostatin A. We have also developed a monoclonal antibody against the MUC1 cytoplasmic tail domain, which has many biological roles. Based on all of the above findings, we suggest that translational research into mucin gene expression mechanisms, including epigenetics, may provide new tools for early and accurate detection of human neoplasms.
© 2011 The Authors. Pathology International © 2011 Japanese Society of Pathology and Blackwell Publishing Asia Pty Ltd.