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Adv Clin Chem. 1994;31:99-133.

Prostatic specific antigen.

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Nuclear Medicine Department, Albert Einstein Medical School, NY, NY 10461.


PSA is a 34-kDa 240-amino-acid glycoprotein produced exclusively by prostatic epithelial cells. PSA is a serine protease, is a member of the kallikrein gene family, and has a high sequence homology with human glandular kallikrein. It has chymotrypsin-, trypsin-, and esterase-like activities. In the serum it is present mainly in a complex form with alpha 1-antichymotrypsin. It is secreted in the seminal plasma and is responsible for liquefaction of the seminal coagulum. The production of PSA proteins appears to be under the control of circulating androgens acting through the androgen receptors. The PSA gene is up-regulated predominantly by androgens at both the protein and mRNA levels. DRE causes minimal changes in the PSA level, while prostate massage, ultrasonography, systoscopic examination, and prostate biopsy can all cause clinically significant elevations. Other conditions, such as prostatitis, prostate intraepithelial neoplasia, acute urinary retention, and renal failure can also elevate the PSA level. The value of PSA as a screening tool is questionable because of the great deal of overlap in PSA levels between BPH and prostate cancer. However, if used in men over 50, in conjunction with DRE and/or ultrasonography, it may become a vital part of the early detection program. PSA's role in determining the clinical and pathological stage is also limited, in spite of the direct correlation between the pathological stage and the PSA level, because of great overlap in the PSA levels in various stages. The most important clinical utility of PSA is in monitoring patients after definitive therapy. PSA is most sensitive and reliable in the detection of a residual tumor, possibly recurrence, or disease progression following treatment, irrespective of the treatment modality. PSA can accurately predict the tumor status and can detect recurrence several months before its detection by any other method. PSA is also a very sensitive and specific immunohistochemical marker for tumors of prostatic origin. Compared to PAP, PSA is a more precise and meaningful marker in all clinical situations. With the development of ultrasensitive assays and the adoption of an international standard PSA calibrator, so that results from multicenter studies can be compared, PSA could become one of the most useful tumor marker in cancer biology.

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