The involvement of Helix pomatia lectin (HPA) binding N-acetylgalactosamine glycans in cancer progression


  • Susan A. Brooks


helix pomatia lectin, HPA, glycosylation, metastasis


The lectin from Helix pomatia, the Roman snail (HPA), recognises terminal alpha N-acetylgalactosamine residues. A large number of lectin histochemical studies have demonstrated that expression of HPA-binding glycoproteins by cancer cells to be a marker of metastatic competence and poor prognosis in a range of common human adenocarcinomas, including those of breast, stomach, ovary, oesophagus, colorectum, thyroid and prostate. Around 80% of metastases arising from primary breast cancer are predictably HPA positive, but, intriguingly, around 20% do not express HPA binding glycoproteins reflecting the complexity of metastatic mechanisms and the further disruptions in cellular glycosylation that attend tumour progression. HPA binding is not an independent prognostic factor, but is strongly associated with the presence of metastases in local lymph nodes. It does appear to be independent of other clinical features of prognostic importance such as tumour size, histological grade, S-phase fraction, ploidy, and there is little convincing evidence of any association with oncogene expression or hormone receptor positivity. The precise nature of the metastasisassociated HPA binding partner(s) is a question of some interest, but thus far remains unclear. HPA will recognise, for example, the Tn epitope and blood group A antigen, but its prognostic significance appears to be through recognition of a much broader and heterogeneous array of N-galactosaminylated glycoproteins. Their synthesis appears to be mediated through alteration in expression or activity of one or more of the enzymes of glycosylation. The most likely putative roles of HPA-binding ligands in the metastatic cascade may be enhancement of invasive capacity, or interaction with an as yet unidentified lectin-like receptor facilitating adhesion processes. The prognostic information provided by HPA lectin histochemistry may be used clinically to inform the physician and aid treatment decisions; far more interesting is the challenge of further understanding the precise nature of the HPA-binding ligands, and defining their role in the complex mechanisms of metastasis.




Invited Reviews