The MS4A gene family in humans includes CD20 and at least 15 other genes. CD20 exists as homo-oligomers in the plasma membrane, however different MS4A proteins expressed in the same cell may hetero-oligomerize. Given the importance of CD20 in B-cell function and as a therapeutic target, we sought to explore the potential for CD20 hetero-oligomerization with other MS4A proteins. We investigated expression in primary human B-cells of the four MS4A genes previously shown to be expressed in human B-cell lines (MS4A4A, MS4A6A, MS4A7, MS4A8B), as well as two genes comprising the closely related TMEM176 gene family, with a view to identifying candidates for future investigation at the protein level. TMEM176A and TMEM176B transcripts were either not detected, or were detected at relatively low levels in a minority of donor B-cell samples. MS4A4A and MS4A8B transcripts were not detected in any normal B-cell sample. MS4A6A and MS4A7 transcripts were detected at low levels in most samples, however the corresponding proteins were not at the plasma membrane when expressed as GFP conjugates in BJAB cells. We also examined expression of these genes in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), and found that it was similar to normal B-cells with two exceptions. First, whereas MS4A4A expression was undetected in normal B-cells, it was expressed in 1/14 CLL samples. Second, compared to expression levels in normal B-cells, MS4A6A transcripts were elevated in 4/14 CLL samples. In summary, none of the MS4A/TMEM176 genes tested was expressed at high levels in normal or in most CLL B-cells. MS4A6A and MS4A7 were expressed at low levels in most B-cell samples, however the corresponding proteins may not be positioned at the plasma membrane. Altogether, these data suggest that CD20 normally does not form hetero-oligomers with other MS4A proteins and that there are unlikely to be other MS4A proteins in CLL that might provide useful alternate therapeutic targets.
Keywords: B lymphocytes; CD20; CLL; MS4A; TMEM176.