The cell-surface receptor for hyaluronic acid, CD44, is expressed by both normal and malignant cells. Numerous CD44 isoforms have recently been identified that are derived by alternative ribonucleic acid splicing. The expression of some CD44 isoforms has been shown to be involved in tumor progression and metastatic spread in a rat carcinoma model and in human carcinomas. In the present study, CD44 isoform expression was evaluated by reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis in frozen sections derived from three samples of normal brain tissue and from 40 brain tumors, including samples of glioblastoma multiforme, anaplastic astrocytoma, low-grade astrocytoma, cerebral primitive neuroectodermal tumor, medulloblastoma, metastatic colon carcinoma, and metastatic melanoma. Normal brain tissue adjacent to the tumors was also examined in 14 of 18 glioblastomas. In all normal brain and tumor samples, with the exception of metastases from colon carcinoma, PCR analysis demonstrated one prominent product that corresponded to the CD44H hematopoietic form of CD44. Metastases from colon carcinoma demonstrated two prominent PCR amplification products corresponding to CD44H and CD44R1. These results suggest that CD44H is the predominant isoform of this protein in normal human brain tissue and in human neuroectodermal tumors of varying degrees of malignancy. The ability of CD44H to mediate tumor cell motility and invasiveness (in contrast to CD44R1) suggests that the CD44 alternative splicing pattern of neuroectoderm-derived tumors may enhance their local biological aggressiveness and intracerebral spread. The lack of expression of larger molecular weight CD44 variants by primary brain tumors may also partially explain why these tumors rarely metastasize to distant sites.
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