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Mucin O-glycosylation is characterized in cancer by aberrant expression of immature carbohydrate structures (Tn, T, and sialyl-Tn antigens). The UDP-N-acetyl-D-galactosamine: polypeptide N-acetylgalactosaminyltransferases (ppGalNAc-T) family enzymes regulate the initial steps of mucin O-glycosylation and could be responsible for the altered glycosylation observed in cancer. Considering that we recently found the ppGalNAc-T6 mRNA expressed in breast carcinomas, we produced a highly specific monoclonal antibody (MAb T6.3) to assess the expression profile of ppGalNAc-T6 protein product in breast tissues. The expression of ppGalNAc-T6 by breast carcinoma cells was confirmed on MCF-7 and T47D cell lines. In formalin-fixed tissues, ppGalNAc-T6 expression was observed in 60/74 (81%) breast cancers, 21/23 (91.3%) adjacent ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), 4/20 benign breast lesions (2/2 sclerosing adenosis and 2/13 fibroadenoma), and in 0/5 normal breast samples. We observed a statistically significant association of ppGalNAc-T6 expression with T1 tumor stage. This fact, as well as the observation that ppGalNAc-T6 was strongly expressed in sclerosing adenosis and in most DCIS, suggests that ppGalNAc-T6 expression could be an early event during human breast carcinogenesis. Considering that an abnormal O-glycosylation greatly contributes to the phenotype and biology of breast cancer cells, ppGalNAc-T6 expression could provide new insights about breast cancer glycobiology.
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