CD38 (also known as T10) was identified in the late 1970s in the course of pioneering work carried out at the Dana-Farber Cancer Center (Boston, MA) that focused on the identification of surface molecules involved in antigen recognition. CD38 was initially found on thymocytes and T lymphocytes, but today we know that the molecule is found throughout the immune system, although its expression levels vary. Because of this, CD38 was considered an "activation marker," a term still popular in routine flow cytometry. This review summarizes the findings obtained from different approaches, which led to CD38 being re-defined as a multifunctional molecule. CD38 and its homologue CD157 (BST-1), contiguous gene duplicates on human chromosome 4 (4p15), are part of a gene family encoding products that modulate the social life of cells by means of bidirectional signals. Both CD38 and CD157 play dual roles as receptors and ectoenzymes, endowed with complex activities related to signaling and cell homeostasis. The structure-function analysis presented here is intended to give clinical scientists and flow cytometrists a background knowledge of these molecules. The link between CD38/CD157 and human diseases will be explored here in the context of chronic lymphocytic leukemia, myeloma and ovarian carcinoma, although other disease associations are also known. Thus CD38 and CD157 have evolved from simple leukocyte activation markers to multifunctional molecules involved in health and disease. Future tasks will be to explore their potential as targets for in vivo therapeutic interventions and as regulators of the immune response.
Copyright © 2013 International Clinical Cytometry Society.