Mucins are large, heavily O-glycosylated proteins expressed by epithelial tissues. The canonical function of membrane mucins is to provide protection to vulnerable epithelia by forming a steric barrier against assault, and by contributing to the formation of protective extracellular mucin gels. The aberrant overexpression of mucins is thought to contribute to tumor progression by allowing tumor cells to evade immune recognition, and by aiding in the breakdown of cell-cell and cell-matrix contacts to facilitate migration and metastasis. Recent evidence suggests that we should now modify our thinking about mucin function by considering their roles in signaling pathways leading to cellular growth control. Here we review the markedly divergent mechanisms by which membrane mucins, specifically MUC1 and MUC4, influence pathways contributing to cellular proliferation and survival. The cytoplasmic domain of MUC1 serves as a scaffold for the assembly of a variety of signaling proteins, while MUC4 influences the trafficking and localization of growth factor receptors, and hence their responses to external stimuli. We also discuss how tumor cells exploit these mechanisms to promote their own growth and metastasis.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Developmental Biology