This gene encodes alpha-fetoprotein, a major plasma protein produced by the yolk sac and the liver during fetal life. Alpha-fetoprotein expression in adults is often associated with hepatoma or teratoma. However, hereditary persistance of alpha-fetoprotein may also be found in individuals with no obvious pathology. The protein is thought to be the fetal counterpart of serum albumin, and the alpha-fetoprotein and albumin genes are present in tandem in the same transcriptional orientation on chromosome 4. Alpha-fetoprotein is found in monomeric as well as dimeric and trimeric forms, and binds copper, nickel, fatty acids and bilirubin. The level of alpha-fetoprotein in amniotic fluid is used to measure renal loss of protein to screen for spina bifida and anencephaly.
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