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Cancer Res. 1985 Sep;45(9):4499-511.

Distribution of blood group antigens A, B, H, Lewisa, and Lewisb in human normal, fetal, and malignant colonic tissue.


In humans, most blood group substances (BGS) are expressed throughout the fetal colon but are absent from the distal portion of adult colon. Cancers of the distal colon frequently reexpress BGS thereby suggesting that these antigens behave as oncofetal antigens at this organ site. We used a sensitive immunoperoxidase method with monoclonal antibodies directed against blood groups A, B, O (H), Lewisa and Lewisb to systematically evaluate BGS expression in fetal colon, normal adult colon from immediate autopsies of kidney donors, mucosa adjacent to cancer (transitional mucosa) and colorectal cancer tissues. In normal colon, BG-A, B, H, and Lewisb were expressed in proximal but not distal colon, whereas Lewisa was distributed uniformly throughout the colon. In colon cancer, and fetal colon, the proximal-distal gradient of BG-A, B, H, and Lewisb expression was abolished because of enhanced distal expression of these antigens. In cancer tissues, three patterns of altered BGS expression emerged: (a) incompatible expression of BG-A or BG-B (over 50% of patients); (b) deletion of BGS; and (c) precursor BG-H accumulation (80% of 25 tumors). BGS staining of transitional mucosa closely resembled that of the adjacent tumor except that no examples of BGS deletion were encountered in transitional mucosa. The goblet cell secretory vacuole accounted for most of the BGS expression in normal colon, but cancer cells demonstrated differentiation-dependent antigenic expression such that well-differentiated tumors expressed BGS on cell apical membranes and glandular contents, but poorly differentiated cancers exhibited diffuse cytoplasmic staining. These findings confirm the oncofetal nature of BGS in distal colon cancer, and provide immunohistochemical evidence for a diverse repertoire of altered antigen expression in colon cancer. Further investigation is needed to elucidate the possible genetic and biochemical mechanisms involved.

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