Expression of opioid peptides in tumors
We looked for opioid peptides and their precursors in 108 tumors of both neuroendocrine and nonneuroendocrine origin, using a monoclonal "pan-opioid" antibody, 3-E7, which recognizes the tetrapeptide Tyr-Gly-Gly-Phe (the sequence responsible for pharmacologic activity in all known opioid peptides), in conjunction with polyclonal antibodies directed against representative peptides of each of the three precursors (alpha-endorphin, [met]enkephalin-Arg-Gly-Leu, and dynorphin B). Using the avidin-biotin immunoperoxidase technique, we observed consistent cytoplasmic immunoreactivity (at least focally) in all of 15 adrenal pheochromocytomas, all of 6 thyroid medullary carcinomas, and all of 5 pituitary adenomas. Opioid staining was also observed in parathyroid adenomas (8 of 9), pancreatic islet-cell tumors (7 of 10), carcinoid tumors from various sites (18 of 26), and paragangliomas (1 of 2). There was no immunoreactivity in pulmonary small-cell carcinomas, Merkel-cell tumors of skin, neuroblastomas, or any of the non-neuroendocrine tumors examined. The expression of alpha-endorphin, [met]enkephalin-Arg-Gly-Leu, and dynorphin B varied from tumor to tumor; however, positive staining with the "pan-opioid" antibody was found in each tumor containing at least one of the three precursors. Opioid peptide immunoreactivity was also detected in non-neoplastic cells of the adrenal medulla, pancreatic islets, pituitary, intestinal and bronchial mucosa, and intestinal myenteric plexuses. We conclude that opioid expression within tumors is most likely due to enhanced expression of a normal cell product and that opioid peptides are useful markers of neuroendocrine differentiation in many tumors.