The MUC1 oncoprotein as a functional target: Immunotoxin binding to α/βjunction mediates cell killing

Daniel B. Rubinstein, Maya Karmely, Edward Pichinuk, Ravit Ziv, Itai Benhar, Ningping Feng, Nechama I. Smorodinsky, Daniel H. Wreschner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


MUC1, a heavily glycosylated mucin, has generated considerable interest as a target for tumor killing because of its overexpression in malignancies. Full-length MUC1 (MUC1/TM) is proteolytically cleaved after synthesis generating α and β subunits, which specifically bind in a noncovalent interaction. Although the β chain remains on the cell surface, the α chain binds in an on-and-off interaction. Most anti-MUC1 antibodies (Abs) described to date recognize epitopes within the highly immunogenic α-chain tandem repeat. Because the α-chain is shed, such Abs are sequestered and fail to reach MUC1-expressing cells. Immunizing with cDNA encoding MUC1/TM and the spliced MUC1/X isoform from which the tandem repeat has been deleted yielded antibodies to the MUC1 α/β junction. Pseudomonas toxin PE38 linked to polyclonal anti-MUC1 α/β junction Abs both bound and killed MUC1-positive malignant cells. Monoclonal DMC209 binds the MUC1 α/β junction in both MUC1/X and MUC1/TM. When injected into SCID mice xenotransplanted with human breast cancer MDA-MB-231, monoclonal DMC209 showed significant in vivo tumorsuppressive activity. The MUC1/X α/β junction presents a biologically-significant target in MUC1-expressing malignancies because (i) antibodies directed against cell-bound α/β junction epitopes reach the intended cellular target, (ii) antibodies to junction epitope are internalized into cells, (iii) anti α/β junction antibodies can effectively kill high MUC1-expressing cancer cells as antibody-toxin conjugates and (iv) antibodies targeting the MUC1 cell-bound α/β junction results in tumor suppression in vivo. Our results indicate that cell-bound MUC1 α/β junction, unlike shed alpha chain, represents a highly effective moiety for targeting and killing MUC1-expressing malignancies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)46-54
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Cancer
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2009


  • Cancer cell killing
  • Junction
  • Muc1; α/β
  • Oncogene
  • Target-specific therapy


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