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NUCB2 is an EF-hand Ca2+ binding protein that has been implicated in various physiological processes like calcium homeostasis, hypothalamic regulation of feeding and TNF receptor shedding. In our previous study we identified NUCB2 as a potential tumour antigen eliciting autoantibody responses in 5.4% of gastric cancer patients but not in the healthy individuals. The current study aimed to elucidate the molecular mechanism underlying NUCB2 immunogenicity and to gain an insight into the physiological functions of NUCB2 in the stomach. mRNA expression analysis demonstrated that NUCB2 is ubiquitously expressed in normal tissues, including lymphoid tissues, and downregulated in gastric tumours when compared with the adjacent relatively normal stomach tissues. The search for molecular alterations resulted in the identification of novel mRNA variants transcribed from an alternative promoter and expressed predominantly in gastric cancers. Western blot analysis demonstrated that the protein levels correspond to mRNA levels and revealed that NUCB2 is phosphorylated in gastric mucosa. Furthermore, a 55 kDa isoform, generated presumably by yet an unidentified post-translational modification was detected in gastric tumours and AGS gastric cancer cells but was absent in the relatively normal gastric mucosa and thereby might have served as a trigger for the immune response against NUCB2. Staining of stomach tissue microarray with anti-NUCB2 antibody revealed that it is expressed in the secretory granules of chief cells and in the cytoplasm of parietal cells in the functioning gastric glands which are lost in atrophic glands and tumour cells. Hence we propose that NUCB2 may be implicated in gastric secretion by establishing an agonist-releasable Ca2+ store in ER or Golgi apparatus, signalling via heterotrimeric Ga proteins and/or mediating the exocytosis of the secretory granules.
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