Chromosome X-encoded cancer/testis antigens show distinctive expression patterns in developing gonads and in testicular seminoma

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Abstract

BACKGROUND

Cancer/testis (CT) antigens are cancer antigens normally expressed in adult testicular germ cells. The expression of chromosome X-encoded CT antigens (CT-X antigens) in human fetal gonads and in testicular seminomas was examined.

METHODS

The expression of 10 CT-X antigens (MAGEA, NY-ESO-1, GAGE, CT7/MAGEC1, CT10/MAGEC2, CT45, SAGE1, SSX2, NXF2 and SPANX) was studied immunohistochemically.

RESULTS

In adult human testis, SPANX is expressed in late spermatids and spermatozoa, whereas all other CT-X antigens are predominantly expressed in spermatogonia or primary spermatocytes. All CT-X antigens except SPANX are expressed in human fetal germ cells. CT-X-positive germ cells appear as early as 13 weeks after gestation, increase with age and reach a plateau at around 22 weeks. In the fetal ovary, CT-X-positive oogonia are most abundant at around 24 weeks and sharply decrease subsequently. CT-X antigens are almost exclusively expressed in OCT3/4-negative gonocytes and their expression appears to coincide with the loss of pluripotency. Spermatocytic seminoma, a neoplasm derived from adult pre-meiotic germ cells, showed uniform expression of all CT-X antigens except SPANX. In contrast, most seminomas (>80%) express CT7, CT45, GAGE and CT10 but express MAGEA, NXF2 and NY-ESO-1 at lower frequency, and very rarely express SSX2 and SAGE1.

CONCLUSIONS

Most CT-X antigens are expressed in human fetal germ cells after they have lost stem cell characteristics, with predominant expression in pre-meiotic germ cells. Spermatocytic seminomas showed expression of all CT-X antigens except SPANX, whereas classical seminomas only express some CT-X antigens, reflecting their different origins from adult versus fetal germ cells.

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