The American journal of pathology

Immunohistochemical analysis of Mcl-1 protein in human tissues. Differential regulation of Mcl-1 and Bcl-2 protein production suggests a unique role for Mcl-1 in control of programmed cell death in vivo.

PMID 7778670


The mcl-1 gene encodes an approximately 37-kd protein that has significant homology with Bcl-2, an inhibitor of programmed cell death that is expressed in many types of long-lived cells. In this study we determined the in vivo patterns of Mcl-1 protein production in normal human tissues by immunohistochemical means, using specific polyclonal antisera, and made comparisons with Bcl-2. Like Bcl-2, Mcl-1 immunostaining was observed in epithelial cells in a variety of tissues, including prostate, breast, endometrium, epidermis, stomach, intestine, colon, and respiratory tract. However, often the expression of mcl-1 and bcl-2 in complex epithelia occurred in gradients with opposing directions, such that Bcl-2 immunostaining tended to be higher in the less differentiated cells lining the basement membrane, whereas Mcl-1 immunostaining was more intense in the differentiated cells located in the upper layers of these epithelia. The in vivo patterns of mcl-1 and bcl-2 expression were also strikingly different in several other tissues as well. Within the secondary follicles of lymph nodes and tonsils, for example, germinal center lymphocytes were Mcl-1 positive but mostly lacked Bcl-2; whereas mantle zone lymphocytes expressed bcl-2 but not mcl-1. Intense Mcl-1 immunoreactivity was also detected in several types of neuroendocrine cells, including the adrenal cortical cells that are Bcl-2 negative, sympathetic neurons that also contain Bcl-2, a subpopulation of cells in the pancreatic islets, Leydig cells of the testis, and granulosa lutein cells of the ovarian corpus luteum but not in thyroid epithelium, which is strongly Bcl-2 positive. Little or no Mcl-1 was detected in neurons in the brain and spinal cord, in contrast to Bcl-2, which is present in several types of central nervous system neurons. Conversely, strong Mcl-1 immunostaining was found in cardiac and skeletal muscle, which contain comparatively less Bcl-2. Additional types of cells that are Bcl-2-negative but that expressed mcl-1 include chondrocytes and hepatocytes. These findings demonstrate that mcl-1 expression is widespread in vivo and imply that the Mcl-1 and Bcl-2 proteins fulfill different roles in the overall physiology of cell death regulation.

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