T and Tn, general carcinoma autoantigens

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Science  15 Jun 1984:
Vol. 224, Issue 4654, pp. 1198-1206
DOI: 10.1126/science.6729450


Primary and metastatic carcinomas are epithelial in origin and comprise by far the largest group of malignant tumors in humans. In most of these tumors, T and Tn antigens, whose epitopes have been synthesized, are uncovered and immunoreactive. In all other tissues T and Tn antigens are masked and not accessible to the immune system; they are generally precursors in normal complex carbohydrate chains. Thus, carcinomas have antigens recognized as foreign by the patients' immune system. The expression of T and Tn antigens has pathogenic and clinical consequences, and the antigens themselves are powerful histological markers in carcinoma diagnosis and frequently in prognosis. Most patients distinguish their carcinoma from all other cells, as shown by strong autoimmune responses to T antigen. These responses are readily measured by assays, and they allow detection of carcinomas with greater sensitivity and specificity frequently earlier than previously possible. Moreover, the extent of T and Tn expression often correlates with carcinoma differentiation; on a molecular level, clustered T- and Tn-active structures on carcinoma cell surfaces may be involved in invasion.