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Br J Cancer. 2001 May 18;84(10):1372-6.

The bmi-1 oncoprotein is differentially expressed in non-small cell lung cancer and correlates with INK4A-ARF locus expression.

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Department of Clinical Research, University of Bern, Switzerland.


Genes of the polycomb group function by silencing homeotic selector genes that regulate embryogenesis. In mice, downregulation of one of the polycomb genes, bmi-1, leads to neurological alterations and severe proliferative defects in lymphoid cells, whilst bmi-1 overexpression, together with upregulation of myc-1, induces lymphoma. An oncogenic function has been further supported in primary fibroblast studies where bmi-1 overexpression induces immortalization due to repression of p16/p19ARF, and where together with H-ras, it readily transforms MEFs. It was the aim of this study to assess the expression of bmi-1 in resectable non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) in association with p16 and p14ARF (=human p19ARF). Tumours (48 resectable NSCLC (32 squamous, 9 adeno-, 2 large cell, 4 undifferentiated carcinomas and 1 carcinoid); stage I, 29, II, 7, III, 12; T1, 18, T2, 30; differentiation: G1 12, G2 19, G3 17) were studied by immunohistochemistry for protein expression and by comparative multiplex PCR for gene amplification analysis. In tumour-free, normal lung tissue from patients, weak - moderate bmi-1 staining was seen in some epithelial cells, lymphocytes, glandular cells and in fibroblasts, whereas blood, endothelial, chondrocytes, muscle cells and adipocytes did not exhibit any bmi-1 expression. In tumours, malignant cells were negative/weakly, moderately and strongly positive in 20, 22 and 6 cases, respectively. As assessed by multiplex PCR, bmi-1 gene amplification was not the reason for high-level bmi-1 expression. Tumours with moderate or strong bmi-1 expression were more likely to have low levels of p16 and p14ARF (P = 0.02). Similarly, tumours negative for both, p16 and p14ARF, exhibit moderate-strong bmi-1 staining. 58% of resectable NSCLC exhibit moderate-high levels of bmi-1 protein. The inverse correlation of bmi-1 and the INK4 locus proteins expression (p16/p14ARF) supports a possible role for bmi-1 misregulation in lung carcinogenesis.

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