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J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1995 Jan;80(1):294-301.

Proprotein convertases (PC1/PC3 and PC2) in normal and neoplastic human tissues: their use as markers of neuroendocrine differentiation.

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  • 1Endocrinology Unit, National Tumor Institute, Milan, Italy.


By immunocytochemistry and immunoblotting, we examined normal and neoplastic human tissues with polyclonal antibodies raised against selected peptide regions of proprotein convertase-2 and -3 (PC2 and PC3), two proteases that have been shown to selectively cleave neuroendocrine precursor molecules at pairs of basic residues. Immunoreactivity for both enzymes was detected in neuroendocrine cells of pituitary, gut, pancreas, thyroid, and adrenals and in tumors thereof, but was absent in thyroid follicular cells, parathyroids, adrenal cortex, testes, and a number of nonneuroendocrine tissues, both normal and tumorous. Although both PCs were virtually universal concomitants of the neuroendocrine system, cells with a neural phenotype (e.g. pheochromocytes and Merkel cells) predominantly contained PC2, whereas classic endocrine cells contained mostly PC3. PC3 immunoreactive cells were abundant all along the gastrointestinal tract, whereas PC2 was highly expressed only in the pyloric antrum and proximal third of duodenum. Double immunostaining experiments revealed colocalization of PC3 with virtually all gastrointestinal peptides, whereas PC2 immunoreactivity was mostly expressed in gastrin, cholecystokinin, and somatostatin cells. Noticeably, the proportion of glucagon-producing cells immunoreactive for PC3 was high in the gut and low in pancreatic islets and glucagonomas, whereas the reverse occurred for PC2. At the ultrastructural level, immunostaining was confined to the mature dense core granules, the site of storage of granins and peptide hormones. With the exception of parathyroid cells, PC2 and/or PC3 expression correlated with the occurrence of granins, canonical markers of the secretory granules. Immunoblotting experiments confirmed the identity of the immunocytochemical reactivities. It is concluded that PC2 and PC3 are highly sensitive markers of neuroendocrine differentiation and have distinct distribution patterns, and that antibodies to these enzymes may play an important role in the analysis of tumors.

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