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N Engl J Med. 1990 Nov 22;323(21):1457-62.

Altered expression of the retinoblastoma gene product in human sarcomas.

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Department of Surgery, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY 10021.



The retinoblastoma-susceptibility (Rb) gene is a prototype tumor-suppressor gene originally isolated from patients with heritable retinoblastoma. This gene encodes a nuclear phosphoprotein whose expression is altered in several types of human tumors.


We studied the expression of the Rb protein in 44 primary and 12 metastatic high-grade human sarcomas by means of immunohistochemical methods and Western blotting. Computerized image analysis was used to quantify the level of Rb gene product in individual tumor cells. The expression of the Rb gene was then correlated with clinical outcome in the patients with primary tumors.


Of the 44 patients with primary sarcomas, 13 (30 percent) had tumors with normal, homogeneous expression of the Rb protein in essentially all tumor cells. Thirty-one patients with primary tumors (70 percent) had altered Rb expression; in 18 (40 percent) the Rb protein was heterogeneously expressed, and in 13 (30 percent) it was detected in fewer than 20 percent of the tumor cells. All 12 of the patients with metastatic sarcomas had altered expression of the Rb protein. When the findings in the patients with primary tumors were correlated with clinical outcome, survival was found to be significantly increased in the patients whose tumors had homogeneous Rb expression, as compared with those with either heterogeneous expression (P = 0.026) or no expression (P = 0.012).


Tumors in which the expression of Rb gene product was decreased were more aggressive than tumors in which this protein was expressed by nearly all cells. The Rb gene product may be an important prognostic variable in patients with these tumors.

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