Background: Barrett esophagus (BE) is a premalignant condition resulting from chronic acid gastroesophageal reflux and is associated with increased epithelial cell proliferation. Elimination of acid reflux might decrease cancer risk by affecting cell proliferation in BE. The effect of elimination of acid reflux on epithelial cell proliferation in BE was studied.
Methods: Forty-five patients with long segment Barrett esophagus were treated in a randomized 2-year follow-up study with either omeprazole 40 mg b.i.d. (OME) or ranitidine 150 mg b.i.d. (RAN) and were compared for the effect on epithelial cell proliferation. Biopsies were taken 3 cm above the GE junction and just below the Z-line, at 0, 3, 9, and 24 months. Epithelial cell proliferation was determined by in vitro labeling with 5-bromo-2-deoxyuridine and immunohistochemistry. Labeling indices (LI) were established for luminal and crypt epithelium separately. Ambulatory 24-h esophageal pH-metry was performed at 0 and 3 months. Comparisons were made for the timeframes 0-3 months, 3-24 months, and 0-24 months.
Results: OME reduced mean acid reflux to 0.1 %/24 h, RAN to 9.4%. In the distal and the proximal biopsies, change in LI after 3 months was n.s. at either level for both treatments. In the distal biopsies (OME 22, RAN 23 patients) luminal LI increased significantly for RAN from 3 to 24 months (+12.64% month, mean area under the curve (AUC)), while that for OME remained stable, RAN versus OME P < 0.05. Crypt LI increased in both groups, only in RAN significantly so (+30.75% month), RAN versus OME n.s. In the proximal biopsies luminal LI at 24 months (OME 20, RAN 21 patients) had increased slightly but not significantly in RAN (+8.86% month), RAN versus OME n.s., whereas in the crypts LI in OME it had increased significantly (+28.80% month), OME versus RAN n.s.
Conclusion: Elimination of acid reflux resulted in a stabilization of luminal cell proliferative activity of Barrett epithelium in the distal esophagus, whereas this activity increased during continued acid reflux. Whether this finding has any implication for the cancer risk in Barrett esophagus remains to be seen.