Background: APO-1 is a 48 kilodalton transmembrane, cysteine-rich glycoprotein identical with the Fas antigen which belongs to the nerve growth factor/tumor necrosis factor receptor superfamily. Cross-linking of APO-1 induces apoptotic cell death in sensitive cells.
Experimental design: As suggested by our preliminary results, APO-1 expression is not restricted to cells of the hematopoietic lineage. We therefore investigated APO-1 expression in normal human tissues and in various epithelial and nonepithelial tumors.
Results: We show by immunohistochemistry that APO-1 is a non-lineage antigen constitutively expressed in a variety of epithelial cells. This includes the basal layers of various squamous epithelia, transitional epithelium and columnar epithelium of the biliary tract and intestine. Among the epithelial cell types of the reproductive system of both genders, APO-1 expression is complex. Except the satellite cells of autonomic ganglia, all cells of the nervous tissue are APO-1-negative. Among mesenchymal cells, constitutive APO-1 expression is rare but detectable in various kinds of activated cells, e.g. fibroblasts, osteoblasts, and subpopulations of endothelial cells. Within the immune system, APO-1 is broadly distributed among histiocytic cells but restricted to minor subpopulations of peripheral T and B cells. Immature T cells, i.e., thymocytes, do not express detectable APO-1-antigen. Expression of APO-1 was induced in phytohemagglutinin activated T cells and in a mammary carcinoma cell line by interferon-gamma alone and in combination with tumor necrosis factor alpha. Consistently, there was an in situ induction of APO-1 in several types of glandular epithelium in microtopographic association with lymphohistiocytic infiltrates. This inflammation-associated APO-1 induction went along with increased expression of this molecule within the lymphocytic compartment of the lesion. In tumors. APO-1 expression was heterogeneous. In comparison to their normal counterparts, some tumors showed abnormal hypo-expression or loss of APO-1. However, abnormal neo-expression was also found.
Conclusions: Tissue distribution, in vitro expression, and reaction upon cytokine-induced activation suggest that APO-1 might not only transmit apoptotic signals but might play a more general role in growth control.