Sialosyl-Tn antigen and its immediate precursor, Tn antigen, are carbohydrate structures associated with the earliest steps of mucin O-linked glycosylation. Both antigens have been shown previously to be highly sensitive and specific markers of colorectal cancer. One hundred and three colorectal polyps (79 adenomatous; 24 hyperplastic) were examined for expression of Tn antigen using vicia villosa isolectin B4, and for sialosyl-Tn antigen by monoclonal antibody TKH2. Tn antigen was expressed by all of the polyps studied. Sialosyl-Tn, on the other hand was expressed weakly by a few cells in 7 of 24 (29%) hyperplastic polyps. Among the adenomatous polyps, 56% expressed sialosyl-Tn and expression correlated with larger adenoma size, greater villous component, and more severe grades of dysplasia. In individuals with two or more synchronous adenomas, the level of sialosyl-Tn expression within an adenoma was associated with the severity of cytological atypia. All the adenomas that contained a focus of invasive carcinoma expressed sialosyl-Tn. These results indicate that colorectal polyps manifest incomplete glycosylation, exposing antigens in the innermost region of mucin oligosaccharides. In addition, the correlation of sialosyl-Tn antigen expression with the adenoma-carcinoma sequence may make this a useful marker for studying malignant progression in the colon.
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