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BACKGROUND: The human maspin gene encodes a protein in the serine proteinase inhibitor (serpin) family with tumor-suppressing functions in cell culture and in nude mice. In order to examine the role of maspin in an intact mammal, we cloned and sequenced the cDNA of mouse maspin. The recombinant protein was produced and its activity in cell culture was assessed. MATERIALS AND METHODS: Mouse maspin (mMaspin) was cloned by screening a mouse mammary gland cDNA library with the human maspin cDNA probe. Northern blot analysis was used to examine the expression patterns in mouse tissues, mammary epithelial cells, and carcinomas. Recombinant mMaspin protein was produced in E. coli. Invasion and motility assays were used to assess the biological function of mMaspin. RESULTS: mMaspin is 89% homologous with human maspin at the amino acid level. Like its human homolog, mMaspin is expressed in normal mouse mammary epithelial cells and down-regulated in mouse breast tumor cell lines. The expression is altered at different developmental stages in mammary gland. Addition of the recombinant mMaspin protein to mouse tumor cells was shown to inhibit invasion in a dose-dependent manner. As with the human protein, recombinant mMaspin protein also inhibited mouse mammary tumor motility. Deletion in the putative mMaspin reactive site loop (RSL) region resulted in the loss of its inhibitory functions. CONCLUSIONS: mMaspin is the mouse homolog of a human tumor suppressor gene. The expression of mMaspin is down-regulated in tumor cells and is altered at different developmental stages of mammary gland. mMaspin has inhibitory properties similar to those of human maspin in cell culture, suggesting that the homologous proteins play similar physiological roles in vivo.