Recent advances in the detection of the growing family of MUC genes using nucleic acid probes and both VNTR and non-VNTR antibodies are making a significant impact on the ability to detect patterns of expression in gastrointestinal disease. This progress suggests that it may be possible to identify disease phenotypes more readily than with previous glycosylation based detection. The clinical impact of these developments will be in improved diagnosis and prognosis in disease screening and expansion of the current antimucin vaccine trials with MUC1 and sialyl-Tn to other mucin genes implicated in gastrointestinal disease. Sharing of carbohydrate antigens with non-mucin glycoconjugates remains a significant limitation in this respect. The secretory and membrane associated nature of the MUC gene products requires clear functional significance, and regulation of these genes is only starting to be investigated. Future development will be aimed at identification of MUC gene product glycosylation in diseases related to the protective functions at the mucosal surface, their role in cell and matrix adhesion, and metastasis.
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