Cytokeratin 20 (CK20) is an epithelial protein expressed almost exclusively in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and is widely used as immunohistochemical marker for routine diagnosis. In contrast, CK20 gene expression is not an established marker for the classification of tumours and the detection of disseminated cancer cells in colorectal cancer. Recently, real-time reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) has provided the means for reproducible and quantitative investigation of molecular markers. This report directly compares CK20 mRNA and protein expression in serial sections of archival, formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded (FFPE) colorectal adenocarcinomas. CK20 expression was detected by immunohistochemistry (IHC) in 60/63 (95.2%) cases, by conventional RT-PCR in 58/60 (96.7%) and by quantitative RT-PCR using the LightCycler (LightCycler is a trademark of a Member of the Roche Group) System in 29/32 (90.6%) microdissected cases, one case yielding variable results. Despite the high detection rate of all three techniques, marked heterogeneity of CK20 expression was seen between different cases and also within individual cases. CK20 expression profiles were not related to particular histopathological features of the tumours. A good correlation (r = 0.8964) was found between CK20 mRNA and protein expression by comparing quantitative RT-PCR with IHC in 32 cases. This was also true for selected heterogeneous tumour cells within individual cases. Both RT-PCR and IHC are therefore valuable tools for CK20 detection in colorectal adenocarcinoma, with real-time RT-PCR providing supplementary quantitative information. This suggests a promising supportive role for quantitative RT-PCR in molecular pathology.
Copyright 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.