The proliferation marker pKi-67 becomes masked to MIB-1 staining after expression of its tandem repeats
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The Ki-67 antigen, pKi-67, is one of the most commonly used markers of proliferating cells. The protein can only be detected in dividing cells (G1-, S-, G2-, and M-phase) but not in quiescent cells (G0). The standard antibody to detect pKi-67 is MIB-1, which detects the so-called 'Ki-67 motif' FKELF in 9 of the protein's 16 tandem repeats. To investigate the function of these repeats we expressed three of them in an inducible gene expression system in HeLa cells. Surprisingly, addition of a nuclear localization sequence led to a complete absence of signal in the nuclei of MIB-1-stained cells. At the same time antibodies directed against different epitopes of pKi-67 did not fail to detect the protein. We conclude that the overexpression of the 'Ki-67 motif', which is present in the repeats, can lead to inability of MIB-1 to detect its antigen as demonstrated in adenocarcinoma tissue samples. Thereafter, in order to prevent the underestimation of Ki-67 proliferation indices in MIB-1-labeled preparations, additional antibodies (for example, MIB-21) should be used. Additionally, we could show in a mammalian two-hybrid assay that recombinant pKi-67 repeats are capable of self-associating with endogenous pKi-67. Speculating that the tandem repeats are intimately involved in its protein–protein interactions, this offers new insights in how access to these repeats is regulated by pKi-67 itself.
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