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Acta Physiol (Oxf). 2011 Jul;202(3):563-81. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-1716.2010.02205.x. Epub 2010 Nov 12.

Old proteins - new locations: myoglobin, haemoglobin, neuroglobin and cytoglobin in solid tumours and cancer cells.

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Institute of Veterinary Physiology, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.



The unexpected identification of myoglobin (MB) in breast cancer prompted us to evaluate the clinico-pathological value of MB, haemoglobin (HB) and cytoglobin (CYGB) in human breast carcinoma cases. We further screened for the presence of neuroglobin (NGB) and CYGB in tumours of diverse origin, and assessed the O(2) -response of HB, MB and CYGB mRNAs in cancer cell lines, to better elicit the links between this ectopic globin expression and tumour hypoxia.


Breast tumours were analysed by immunohistochemistry for HB, MB and CYGB and correlated with clinico-pathological parameters. Screening for CYGB and NGB mRNA expression in tumour entities was performed by hybridization, quantitative PCR (qPCR) and bioinformatics. Hypoxic or anoxic responses of HB, MB and CYGB mRNAs was analysed by qPCR in human Hep3B, MCF7, HeLa and RCC4 cancer cell lines.


78.8% of breast cancer cases were positive for MB, 77.9% were positive for HB and 55.4% expressed CYGB. The closest correlation with markers of hypoxia was observed for CYGB. Compared to the weakly positive status of MB in healthy breast tissues, invasive tumours either lost or up-regulated MB. Breast carcinomas showed the tendency to silence CYGB. HB was not seen in normal tissues and up-regulated in tumours. Beyond breast malignancies, expression levels of NGB and CYGB mRNAs were extremely low in brain tumours (glioblastoma, astrocytoma). NGB was not observed in non-brain tumours. CYGB mRNA, readily detectable in breast cancer and other tumours, is down-regulated in lung adenocarcinomas. Alpha1 globin (α1 globin) and Mb were co-expressed in MCF7 and HeLa cells; CYGB transcription was anoxia-inducible in Hep3B and RCC4 cells.


This is the first time that HB and CYGB are reported in breast cancer. Neither NGB nor CYGB are systematically up-regulated in tumours. The down-regulated CYGB expression in breast and lung tumours is in line with a tumour-suppressor role. Each of the screened cancer cells expresses at least one globin (i.e. main globin species: CYGB in Hep3B; α1 globin + MB in MCF7 and HeLa). Thus, globins exist in a wide variety of solid tumours. However, the generally weak expression of the endogenous proteins in the cancer argues against a significant contribution to tumour oxygenation. Future studies should consider that cancer-expressed globins might function in ways not directly linked to the binding and transport of oxygen.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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