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Am J Pathol. 1988 Aug;132(2):223-32.

Smooth muscle cells can express cytokeratins of "simple" epithelium. Immunocytochemical and biochemical studies in vitro and in vivo.

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Department of Pathology, University of Washington, Seattle 98195.


Cytokeratins are a set of 19 proteins that together constitute the class of intermediate filament protein expressed by epithelial cells and tumors. Using a panel of 9 different monoclonal anti-cytokeratin antibodies, the authors have performed immunocytochemistry on methanol-fixed, frozen sections and methacarn-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissue of human myometrial specimens. Anomalous cytokeratin expression (ACE) by smooth muscle cells was found in all specimens. Immunoblots of this tissue confirmed the presence of cytokeratin 19, and possibly 8. In addition, immunocytochemical studies demonstrated ACE in human fetal tissues within the intestinal muscularis and the heart, especially in the region of the aortic outflow tract, and in 8 of 19 cases of leiomyosarcoma from adults. Indirect immunofluorescence studies were also performed on cells explanted from myometrial tissue; the overwhelming majority of cells derived from these cultures were smooth muscle cells as verified by expression of muscle actins, and a subpopulation of these cells was found to be cytokeratin-positive. ACE was confirmed in vitro by double labeling experiments demonstrating simultaneous expression of muscle actins and cytokeratins within the same cell. The significance of this smooth muscle cell ACE is unknown, but it may be a phenotypic marker of smooth muscle in a proliferative state. ACE could be a source of confusion in the immunocytochemical analysis of poorly differentiated malignancies if a complete panel of antibodies is not employed.

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