Gastric gland mucin secreted from pyloric gland cells, mucous neck cells, and cardiac gland cells of the gastric mucosa harbors unique O-glycans carrying terminal α1,4-linked N-acetylglucosamine residues (αGlcNAc), which are primarily attached to the scaffold mucin core protein MUC6. αGlcNAc acts as an antibiotic against Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), a microbe causing gastric cancer. In addition, mice deficient in A4gnt, which encodes the enzyme α1,4-N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase (α4GnT) that catalyzes αGlcNAc biosynthesis, spontaneously develop gastric differentiated-type adenocarcinoma, even if not infected by H. pylori. Thus, αGlcNAc prevents gastric cancer as both an antibiotic and a tumor suppressor (Nakayama in Acta Histochem Cytochem 47:1–9, 2014b). Indeed, in humans αGlcNAc loss on MUC6 in differentiated-type adenocarcinoma is closely associated with poor patient prognosis (Shiratsu et al. in Cancer Sci 105:126–133, 2014). Recently, we reported reduced αGlcNAc expression on MUC6 in both pyloric gland adenoma of the stomach and chronic atrophic gastritis, in Barrett’s esophagus, and in pancreatic intraductal papillary-mucinous neoplasm (IPMN)/pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PanIN), all potentially premalignant conditions. This review discusses whether relatively reduced levels of αGlcNAc in these lesions could serve as a biomarker to predict malignant potential and cancer progression.
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