Cancer and Metastasis Reviews

, Volume 23, Issue 1, pp 77–99

Mucins and mucin binding proteins in colorectal cancer


DOI: 10.1023/A:1025815113599

Cite this article as:
Byrd, J.C. & Bresalier, R.S. Cancer Metastasis Rev (2004) 23: 77. doi:10.1023/A:1025815113599


Mucins are high-molecular weight epithelial glycoproteins with a high content of clustered oligosaccharides O-glycosidically linked to tandem repeat peptides rich in threonine, serine, and proline. There are two structurally and functionally distinct classes of mucins: secreted gel-forming mucins (MUC2, MUC5AC, MUC5B, and MUC6) and transmembrane mucins (MUC1, MUC3A, MUC3B, MUC4, MUC12, MUC17), although the products of some MUC genes do not fit well into either class (MUC7, MUC8, MUC9, MUC13, MUC15, MUC16).

MUC1 mucin, as detected immunologically, is increased in expression in colon cancers, which correlates with a worse prognosis. Expression of MUC2 secreted gel-forming mucin is generally decreased in colorectal adenocarcinoma, but preserved in mucinous carcinomas, a distinct subtype of colon cancer associated with microsatellite instability. Another secreted gel-forming mucin, MUC5AC, a product of normal gastric mucosa, is absent from normal colon, but frequently present in colorectal adenomas and colon cancers.

The O-glycosidically linked oligosaccharides of mucins can be described in terms of core type, backbone type, and peripheral structures. Colon cancer mucins have differences in both core carbohydrates and in peripheral carbohydrate structures that are being investigated as diagnostic and prognostic markers, and also as targets for cancer vaccines. Colon cancer mucins typically have increases in three core structures: Tn antigen (GalNAcαThr/Ser), TF antigen (Galβ3GalNAc) and sialyl Tn (NeuAcα6GalNAc). The type 3 core (GlcNAcβ3GalNAc) predominant in normal colonic mucin is lacking in colon cancer mucins. There are cancer-associated alterations in the peripheral carbohydrates of colonic mucins including a decrease in O-acetyl-sialic acid and a decrease in sulfation. There are, however, cancer-associated increases in sialyl LeX and related structures on mucins and other glycoproteins that can serve as ligands for selectins, increasing the metastatic capacity of colon cancer cells. The endogenous galactoside-binding protein galectin-3, which is expressed at higher levels in colon cancers than normal colon, binds to colon cancer mucin as well as other glycoproteins. Interference of the binding of selectins and galectin-3 to mucin may show therapeutic or preventative promise for colon cancer.

mucins colorectal cancer metastasis MUC genes galectin-3 selectins 

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Department of Gastrointestinal Medicine and NutritionThe University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer CenterHouston

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