Background & aims: Cyclooxygenase (COX) enzymes catalyze the conversion of arachidonic acid to prostaglandins. Evidence suggests that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs reduce the risk of colorectal cancer (CRC) and that this effect is mediated through COX inhibition. We analyzed and compared expression of the inducible COX-2 isoform in colorectal neoplasms from patients with hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), and sporadic CRC. Given that COX-2 is induced by transforming growth factor (TGF)-beta and that TGF-beta type II receptor (RII) mutations are found in HNPCCs, we determined the relationship between RII status and COX-2 expression.
Methods: COX-2 protein expression was determined in colorectal epithelia using immunohistochemistry and Western blotting. Patients with HNPCC had known mutations in hMLH1 or hMSH2 genes and/or met the Amsterdam criteria. In CRCs from HNPCC cases, mutations were sought in the coding region of the RII gene using the polymerase chain reaction.
Results: COX-2 was detected in adenomas from 2 of 3 HNPCC, 6 of 7 FAP, and 5 of 8 sporadic cases. In CRCs, COX-2 staining was found in 16 of 24 (67%) HNPCC vs. 24 of 26 (92%) sporadic cases (P = 0.035) and in 2 of 2 FAP cases. Staining intensity was reduced in HNPCCs compared with sporadic CRCs (P = 0.035). Staining localized to the cytoplasm of neoplastic cells; normal epithelial cells were negative for COX-2. Overexpression of COX-2 in CRCs relative to normal mucosa was confirmed by Western blotting. TGF-beta RII mutations were detected in 12 of 14 HNPCCs examined, including 3 of 4 COX-2-negative and 9 of 10 COX-2-positive cancers.
Conclusions: The frequency and intensity of COX-2 expression was significantly reduced in HNPCCs relative to sporadic CRCs, and was not a consequence of RII mutations. Given that many HNPCCs express COX-2, inhibition of this enzyme may be an important strategy to prevent CRC in these patients.