The epithelial membrane protein genes 1, 2, and 3 (EMP1, EMP2, and EMP3) belong to the peripheral myelin protein 22-kDa (PMP22) gene family, which consists of at least seven members: PMP22, EMP1, EMP2, EMP3, PERP, brain cell membrane protein 1, and MP20. This review addresses the structural and functional features of EMPs, detailing their tissue distribution and functions in the human body, their expression pattern in a variety of tumors, and highlighting the underlying mechanisms involved in carcinogenesis. The implications in cancer biology, patient prognosis prediction, and potential application in disease therapy are discussed. For example, EMP1 was reported to be a biomarker of gefitinib resistance in lung cancer and contributes to prednisolone resistance in acute lymphoblastic leukemia patients. EMP2 functions as an oncogene in human endometrial and ovarian cancers; however, characteristics of EMP2 in urothelial cancer fulfill the criteria of a suppressor gene. Of particular interest, EMP3 overexpression in breast cancer is significantly related to strong HER-2 expression. Co-expression of HER-2 and EMP3 is the most important indicator of progression-free and metastasis-free survival for patients with urothelial carcinoma of the upper urinary tract. Altogether, discovery of pharmacological inhibitors and/or regulators of EMP protein activity could open novel strategies for enhanced therapy against EMP-mediated human diseases.
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