The balance between proliferation and apoptosis within a tissue is important in controlling its overall growth. When either or both are altered, uncontrolled cell proliferation can contribute to cancer. The aim of this study was to investigate apoptosis and proliferation in the progression from Barrett's oesophagus to adenocarcinoma. Fifty-one paraffin sections of Barrett's mucosa with both intestinal and gastric-type Barrett's mucosa, dysplasia, and adenocarcinoma, from 28 patients, were examined for apoptosis using haematoxylin and eosin (H&E)-stained sections counterstained immunohistochemically with CD45 to distinguish leucocytes from apoptotic bodies. Proliferation was detected by immunohistochemistry using the MIB-1 (Ki-67) antibody. There was an increase in proliferation in dysplastic and carcinomatous tissue compared with metaplastic tissue (p=0.0001). In dysplasia, proliferation was distributed throughout the basal-luminal axis, whereas in metaplasia, cell division was compartmentalized to the lower crypt (p<0.001). Conversely, there was a decrease in apoptosis in the upper crypt and luminal surface in dysplasia and adenocarcinoma compared with metaplasia (p<0.0008). There was a significant increase in apoptotic activity in intestinal-type Barrett's mucosa compared with gastric-type. There was a highly significant increase in the glandular proliferation to apoptosis ratio (GPAR) in the progression of metaplasia to dysplasia to adenocarcinoma (p=0.001). The shift in the GPAR in the progression of neoplastic change suggests that it may be a useful and sensitive marker of neoplastic change in Barrett's oesophagus, especially if the assessment of both apoptotic and proliferative activity in the mucosa can be made easier by more sophisticated technical methods.
Copyright 1999 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.