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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Jun 7, 1994; 91(12): 5657–5661.
PMCID: PMC44055

Molecular cloning of fibroblast activation protein alpha, a member of the serine protease family selectively expressed in stromal fibroblasts of epithelial cancers.

Abstract

The human fibroblast activation protein alpha (FAP alpha) is a M(r) 95,000 cell surface antigen selectively expressed in reactive stromal fibroblasts of epithelial cancers, granulation tissue of healing wounds, and malignant cells of bone and soft tissue sarcomas. Normal adult tissues are generally FAP alpha-, but some fetal mesenchymal tissues transiently express the molecule. Because of its restricted normal tissue distribution and abundant expression in the stroma of over 90% of breast, colorectal, and lung carcinomas, FAP alpha is under clinical evaluation as a target for immunodetection and immunotherapy of epithelial cancers. In the present study, we have isolated a full-length cDNA for FAP alpha through expression cloning in COS-1 cells. The FAP alpha cDNA codes for a type II integral membrane protein with a large extracellular domain, transmembrane segment, and short cytoplasmic tail. FAP alpha shows 48% amino acid sequence identity to the T-cell activation antigen CD26, a membrane-bound protein with dipeptidyl peptidase IV (DPPIV) activity; however, unlike FAP alpha, CD26 is widely expressed in normal tissues. Three catalytic domains shared by DPPIV homologues in different species and by other serine proteases are conserved in FAP alpha. Immunochemical analysis of COS-1 cells coexpressing FAP alpha and CD26 revealed that the two molecules form heteromeric cell surface complexes, suggesting that a previously identified FAP alpha-associated M(r) 105,000 protein of cultured fibroblasts and growth factor-stimulated melanocytes, FAP beta, is identical to CD26. In vivo coexpression of FAP alpha and CD26 is found in reactive fibroblasts of healing wounds but not in tumor stromal fibroblasts or sarcomas (FAP alpha +/CD26-). The putative serine protease activity of FAP alpha and its in vivo induction pattern may indicate a role for this molecule in the control of fibroblast growth or epithelial-mesenchymal interactions during development, tissue repair, and epithelial carcinogenesis.

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