Catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) plays both a regulatory and protective role in catechol homeostasis. It contributes to the regulation of tissue levels of catecholamines and catecholestrogens (CEs) and, by blocking oxidative metabolism of catechols, prevents endogenous and exogenous catechols from becoming a source of potentially mutagenic electrophiles. Evidence implicating CEs in carcinogenesis, in particular in the hamster kidney model of estrogen-induced cancer, has focused attention on the protective role of COMT in estrogen target tissues. We have previously reported that treating hamsters with estrogens causes translocation of COMT to nuclei of epithelial cells in the renal cortex, the site of CE biosynthesis and where the cancers arise. This finding suggested that nuclear COMT may be a marker of a threat to the genome by catechols, including CEs. It is postulated that CEs play a role in the genesis of breast cancer by contributing to a state of chronic oxidative stress that is presumed to underlie the high incidence of this disease in the United States. Therefore, here we used immunocytochemistry to re-examine human breast parenchyma for nuclear COMT. In addition to confirming previous reports of cytoplasmic COMT in mammary epithelial cells, we identified nuclear COMT in foci of mammary epithelial cells in histologically normal breast tissue of virtually all control (macromastia) and cancer patients and in breast cancer cells. There was no correlation between tissue histology and the numbers of cells with nuclear COMT, the size of foci containing such cells, or intensity of nuclear COMT immunostaining. The focal nature of the phenomenon suggests that nuclear COMT does not serve a housekeeping function but that it reflects a protective response to an increased local catechol load, presumably of CEs and, as such, that it may be a characteristic of the population of women studied who share the same major risk factor for developing breast cancer, that of living in the industrialized West.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Pathology and Forensic Medicine