Background. The neural cell adhesion molecule (NCAM) has numerous isoforms resulting from alternative splicing of mRNA. The 3 major isoforms found in adult tissue are (1) a 120-kDa protein that is linked to the plasma membrane by glycosylphosphatidylinositol; (2) a 140-kDa form that has a transmembrane component and a cytoplasmic tail with unknown function; and (3) a 180-kDa isoform that has an intracellular protein that binds the cytoskeleton. NCAM is capable of homotypic binding and therefore plays a role in cell-cell adhesion for cells expressing the 180-kDa isoform by anchoring groups of cells into epithelial sheets. NCAM-180 is the isoform found in colonocytes, and loss of expression is associated with clinically aggressive colon cancers. Methods. Western blotting and reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction were used to screen commercially available cell lines for NCAM-180 expression. For cell-line pairs with differential NCAM-180 expression, exon analysis was performed with reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction to determine where the molecule was spliced, culminating in failed expression. These results were confirmed with exon analysis in colon cancers harvested at the time of laparotomy. Results. Analysis of a SW480 cell line (derived from a patient's primary colon cancer lesion) revealed NCAM-180 expression, whereas no expression was found in the SW620 cell line (derived from a metastatic lesion from the same patient). Exon analysis of NCAM mRNA transcripts from SW620 revealed that the transcripts were truncated after exon 12. This region correlates to an area between 2 fibronectin-III domains on the NCAM protein. Conclusions. The most common site for NCAM alternative splicing is between the 2 fibronectin-III domains corresponding to the border between exons 12 and 13 of the NCAM gene. Loss of NCAM-180 expression in aggressive colon carcinoma results from a splice defect in the same area, which may result in defective intracellular adhesion between colonocytes.
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