Tumor Biology

, Volume 36, Issue 12, pp 9857–9864 | Cite as

Nonsecreted cytoplasmic alpha-fetoprotein: a newly discovered role in intracellular signaling and regulation. An update and commentary

  • G. J. Mizejewski
Research Article


The concept of a non-secreted cytoplasmic-bound form of alpha-fetoprotein is not a new notion in AFP biological activities. Cytoplasmic AFP (CyAFP) is a long known but forgotten protein in search of a function other than a histochemical biomarker. In this report, CyAFP is presented as an “old” protein with a newly described intracellular function. In 1976, CyAFP was shown to be a product of hepatoma cells utilizing 14Cleucine incorporation and demonstrated by autoradiographic procedures. The synthesis of CyAFP without secretion was demonstrated to occur in both malignant and non-malignant cells encompassing hepatomas, ascite fluid cells, immature rodent uterus, MCF-7 breast cancers, and cytosols from human breast cancer patients. Using computer protein matching and alignments in AFP versus members of the nuclear receptor superfamily, a consecutive series of leucine zipper (heptad) repeats in AFP was previously reported, suggesting the possibility for protein-to-protein interactions. The potential for heptad heterodimerization between protein-binding partners provided the rationale for proposing that CyAFP might have the capability to form molecular hetero-complexes with cytoplasmic based transcription factors. More recent investigations have now provided experimental evidence that CyAFP is capable of colocalizing and interacting with transcription-associated factors. Such proteins can modulate intracellular signaling leading to regulation of transcription factors and initiation of growth in human cancer cells. Although circulating serum AFP is known as a growth-enhancing factor during development, cytoplasmic AFP has a lethal role in the oncogenesis, growth, and metastasis of adult liver cancer.


Alpha-fetoprotein Caspase-3 PI3K/AKT Retinoic acid receptor PTEN GADD153 Dimerization Heptad repeats 



The author wishes to extend his thanks and gratitude to Ms. Tracy Godfrey for the typing and processing of this manuscript. The author also wishes to dedicate this paper to the memory of Dr. Edward J. Sarcione for his 1976 discovery of cytoplasmic alpha-fetoprotein.

Conflicts of interest



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Copyright information

© International Society of Oncology and BioMarkers (ISOBM) 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Translational Medicine, Wadsworth CenterNew York State Department of HealthAlbanyUSA

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