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Cancer Res. 2000 Mar 15;60(6):1654-62.

Heterogeneous expression of the SSX cancer/testis antigens in human melanoma lesions and cell lines.

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  • 1Department of Human Genetics, University Hospital Nijmegen, The Netherlands.


The SSX genes, located on the X chromosome, encode a family of highly homologous nuclear proteins. The SSX1 and SSX2 genes were initially identified as fusion partners of the SYT gene in t(X;18)-positive synovial sarcomas. Recently, however, it was found that these two genes, as well as the highly homologous SSX4 and SSX5 genes, are aberrantly expressed in different types of cancers, including melanomas. Because normal SSX expression has been detected only in the testis and, at very low levels, the thyroid, these proteins are considered as new members of the still growing family of cancer/testis antigens. These antigens are presently considered as targets for the development of cancer immunotherapy protocols. In the present study, we developed a monoclonal antibody found to recognize SSX2, SSX3, and SSX4 proteins expressed in formaldehyde-fixed and paraffin-embedded tissues. This antibody was used to investigate SSX expression in normal testis and thyroid, benign melanocytic lesions, melanoma lesions, and melanoma cell lines. SSX nuclear expression in the testis was found to be restricted to spermatogenic cells, mainly spermatogonia. Of 18 melanoma cell lines analyzed, 9 showed SSX RNA and protein expression, although heterogeneously and at variable levels. Treatment of an SSX-negative cell line with 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine, a demethylating agent, led to SSX RNA and protein expression, indicating a role for methylation in transcription regulation. Thirty-four of 101 primary and metastatic melanoma cases and 2 of 24 common nevocellular and atypical nevus cases showed SSX nuclear staining. Again, SSX expression was heterogeneous, ranging from widespread to scarce. Our findings stress the importance of assessing the a priori SSX expression status of melanoma cases that may be selected for immunotherapeutic trials.

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