Subcellular Localization of Immunohistochemical Signals: Knowledge of the Ultrastructural or Biologic Features of the Antigens Helps Predict the Signal Localization and Proper Interpretation of Immunostains

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In the literature, sufficient attention has not been paid to the precise subcellular localization of immunohistochemical signals, the knowledge of which is essential for proper interpretation of immunostains and distinction of genuine staining from biotin-associated or other nonspecific stainings. The subcellular localization of the signals can in fact be easily deduced from the known biologic or ultrastructural characteristics of the antigens. Extracellular antigens obviously are located in the extracellular compartment. Cellular antigens fall into 3 major groups: membranous, nuclear, and cytoplasmic. Membranous antigens include cell adhesion molecules (such as E-cadherin, N-CAM), cell surface/transmembrane receptors and proteins (such as tyrosine kinase receptors, most leukocyte antigens, CD10, CEA), and molecules linking surface molecules to cytoskeleton (such as β-catenin, dystrophin). Nuclear antigens include cell cycle-associated proteins (such as cyclins, p16, Ki-67), nuclear enzymes (such as TdT), transcription factors (such as TTF-1, CDX-2, myogenin, PAX-5), tumor suppressor gene products (such as p53, p63, WT1, Rb), steroid hormone receptors (such as ER, PR), calcium-binding proteins (such as S-100 protein, calretinin), and some viral proteins (such as CMV, herpes). Cytoplasmic antigens can take up a granular pattern due to localization in organelles, granules, or secretory vesicles (such as chromogranin, hormones, lysozyme, HMB-45), fibrillary pattern attributable to the filamentous nature of the molecules (intermediate filaments and microfilaments), or diffuse or patchy pattern due to localization in the cytosol or large vesicles (such as myoglobin, albumin, thyroglobulin). Aberrant localization of the molecules, when present, can provide important insight into disease processes and aid in their diagnosis, such as loss of membranous E-cadherin expression in lobular breast carcinoma, aberrant nuclear localization of β-catenin in colorectal adenocarcinoma, pattern of ALK staining in anaplastic large cell lymphoma correlating with the different types of chromosomal translocations, presence of additional cytoplasmic CD10 staining in the enterocytes indicative of microvillous inclusion disease, and "reversed" staining for EMA in micropapillary mammary carcinoma. Int J Surg Pathol 12(3):185-206, 2004

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