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Histochem Cell Biol. 2002 Mar;117(3):219-26. Epub 2002 Feb 9.

Expression of the Thomsen-Friedenreich antigen and of its putative carrier protein mucin 1 in the human placenta and in trophoblast cells in vitro.

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Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Rostock, Doberaner Strasse 142, 18055 Rostock, Germany,


The Thomsen-Friedenreich (TF) antigen (or, more precisely, epitope Galbeta1-3GalNAcalpha-O-) has been known for a long time as a carcinoma-associated antigen. In normal tissues the occurrence of TF antigen is restricted to a few immunologically privileged areas. Here we report on the identification of the TF epitope and its putative carrier protein mucin 1 (MUC1) in human placental tissue, on isolated trophoblast cells in vitro and on trophoblast tumour cell lines BeWo and Jeg3. Cryosections of placental and decidual tissues of the first, second and third trimester were double stained with monoclonal antibodies directed against the TF epitope (IgM) and against MUC1 (IgG). In the first trimester of pregnancy we found strong expression of TF antigen and MUC1 at the apical side of the syncytiotrophoblast directed towards the maternal blood. This expression was consistent in the second trimester of pregnancy, and to a lesser degree in the third trimester. In addition, we found positive staining for TF antigen and MUC1 on extravillous trophoblast cells in the decidua during the first and second trimester of pregnancy. Trophoblast tumour cells of the cell line BeWo, which form a syncytium in vitro, were also positive for TF antigen and MUC1, whereas Jeg3 cells, which are unable to form a syncytium, expressed only MUC1. Freshly isolated trophoblast cells from first trimester placentas showed strong staining for MUC1; however, only a few of these cells (less than 1%) were positive for TF antigen, and might consist of digested fragments of the syncytium. In summary, TF antigen and MUC1 are expressed by the syncytiotrophoblast at the feto-maternal interface and by extravillous trophoblast cells invading the decidua, whereas villous cytotrophoblast cells in situ as well as freshly isolated trophoblast cells from first trimester placentas only express MUC1 but not TF antigen.

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