Carcinoembryonic antigen: enhancement of liver colonisation through retention of human colorectal carcinoma cells

Br J Cancer. 1993 Mar;67(3):464-70. doi: 10.1038/bjc.1993.88.


Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) is an oncofetal antigen whose function in the progression of colorectal carcinoma remains unclear although recent studies suggest it participates in homotypic cellular adhesion. We have previously shown that 40 micrograms of CEA injected intravenously into athymic nude mice enhances experimental metastasis in liver and lung by two human colorectal carcinoma cell lines that are injected intrasplenically 30 min later. The metastatic potential of another three moderately to highly metastatic colorectal carcinoma cell lines and of one weakly metastatic line has now been analysed in this model. CEA pretreatment only enhanced colony formation by cell lines that were weakly metastatic in untreated nude mice; it did not affect experimental metastasis by highly metastatic lines. CEA pretreatment enhanced the retention of 125I Idudr-labelled weakly metastatic tumour cells within the liver and lungs 4 h after intrasplenic injection but not the retention of highly metastatic tumour cells or inert latex beads. A significant correlation existed between the formation of experimental metastases and the early retention of tumour cells within the liver after intrasplenic injection. Aggregation did not appear to be important for retention in liver because CEA did not aggregate colorectal carcinoma cells in vitro. Also CEA did not alter natural host effector cell function in a cytolysis assay in vitro. We suggest that CEA facilitates liver colonisation by three of eight human colorectal carcinomas in athymic nude mice by increasing the hepatic retention of tumour cells. The potential mechanisms by which CEA may increase the retention of tumour cells in the liver are discussed.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinoembryonic Antigen / administration & dosage
  • Carcinoembryonic Antigen / analysis
  • Carcinoembryonic Antigen / pharmacology*
  • Colonic Neoplasms*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Injections, Intravenous
  • Kupffer Cells / chemistry
  • Liver / chemistry
  • Liver Neoplasms / secondary*
  • Lung Neoplasms / secondary
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Nude
  • Rectal Neoplasms*
  • Spleen / immunology
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Carcinoembryonic Antigen