CD44 is a transmembrane glycoprotein, the variant isoforms of which are coded for by alternative splicing, with the most prolific isoform being CD44 standard. CD44 is found in a wide variety of tissues including the central nervous system, lung, epidermis, liver, and pancreas, whereas variant isoforms of CD44 (CD44v) appear to have a much more restricted distribution. Variants of CD44 are expressed in tissues during development, including embryonic epithelia. Known functions of CD44 are cellular adhesion (aggregation and migration), hyaluronate degradation, lymphocyte activation, lymph node homing, myelopoiesis and lymphopoiesis, angiogenesis, and release of cytokines. The functions of CD44 are principally dependant on cellular adhesion in one setting or another. The role of CD44 in neoplasia is less well defined, although metastatic potential can be conferred on non-metastasising cell lines by transfection with a variant of CD44 and high levels of CD44 are associated with several types of malignant tumours. The physiological functions of CD44 indicate that the molecule could be involved in the metastatic spread of tumours. Many studies have investigated the pattern of CD44 distribution in tumours and some observations suggest that certain cells do not use CD44 in tumorigenesis or in the production of metastases. However, the data are extremely conflicting, and further studies are needed to establish the prognostic value of CD44 and its variant isoforms. The precise function of CD44 in the metastatic process and the degree of involvement in human malignancies has yet to be established fully.
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