Altered expression of the urokinase receptor homologue, C4.4A, in invasive areas of human esophageal squamous cell carcinoma

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C4.4A is a glycolipid-anchored membrane protein with structural homology to the urokinase-type plasminogen activator receptor (uPAR). Although C4.4A was identified as a metastasis-associated protein little is known about its actual expression and possible function in malignant disease. In the present study, we have therefore analyzed the expression of C4.4A in 14 esophageal squamous cell carcinomas (ESCC). Normal squamous esophageal epithelium shows a strong cell surface associated C4.4A expression in the suprabasal layers, whereas basal cells are negative. Upon transition to dysplasia and carcinomain situthe expression of C4.4A is abruptly and coordinately weakened. Double immunofluorescence staining of normal and dysplastic tissue showed that C4.4A colocalizes with the epithelial cell surface marker E-cadherin in the suprabasal cells and has a complementary expression pattern compared to the proliferation marker Ki-67. A prominent, but frequently intracellular, C4.4A expression reappeared in tumor cells located at the invasive front and local lymph node metastases. Because C4.4A was reported previously to be a putative laminin-5 (LN5) ligand, and both proteins are expressed by invasive tumor cells, we analyzed the possible coexpression of C4.4A and the γ2-chain of LN5 (LN5-γ2). Although these proteins are indeed expressed by either neighboring cancer cells or in a few cases even coexpressed by the same cells in the tumor front and metastases, we found no evidence for a general colocalization in the extracellular compartment by confocal microscopy. In conclusion, C4.4A is expressed during invasion and metastasis of human ESCC and may thus provide a new histological marker in this disease.

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