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Histopathology. 2008 Nov;53(5):561-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2559.2008.03157.x.

Expression of beta-dystroglycan is reduced or absent in many human carcinomas.

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Academic Unit of Pathology, School of Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK.



Dystroglycan is an important structural and signalling protein that is expressed in most human cells. alpha-Dystroglycan has been investigated and found to be reduced in human cancers, but there is only one published study on the expression of beta-dystroglycan in human cancer and that was only on small numbers of breast and prostatic cancers. The aim was to conduct a comprehensive immunohistochemical survey of the expression of beta-dystroglycan in normal human tissues and common cancers.


Triplicate tissue microarrays of 681 samples of normal human tissues and common cancers were stained using an antibody directed against the cytoplasmic component of beta-dystroglycan. beta-Dystroglycan was strongly expressed at the intercellular junctions and basement membranes of all normal human epithelia. Expression of beta-dystroglycan was absent or markedly reduced in 100% of oesophageal adenocarcinomas, 97% of colonic cancers, 100% of transitional cell carcinomas of the urothelium and 94% of breast cancers. In the breast cancers, the only tumours that showed any retention of beta-dystroglycan expression were small low-grade oestrogen receptor-positive tumours. The only cancers that showed retention of beta-dystroglycan expression were cutaneous basal cell carcinomas.


There is loss or marked reduction of beta-dystroglycan expression (by immunohistochemistry) in the vast majority of human cancers surveyed. Since beta-dystroglycan is postulated to have a tumour suppressor effect, this loss may have important functional significance.

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