Aims: Barrett's oesophagus constitutes metaplastic epithelium, often diagnosed by mucin histochemistry. We determined the mucins and trefoil factor family (TFF)-peptides that were expressed in Barrett's oesophagus, in order to study changes in protein expression in early stages of Barrett's oesophagus development.
Methods and results: Biopsy specimens of 71 Barrett's oesophagus patients were collected, and sections were stained for secretory mucins by histochemistry. Immunohistochemistry was performed for secretory mucins (MUC2, MUC5AC, MUC5B, MUC6), TFFs (TFF1, TFF2, TFF3), and proliferation (Ki67). Protein expression in the tissue was measured semiquantitatively. MUC5AC and TFF1 showed high levels and strong colocalization in the surface epithelium, whereas MUC6, MUC5B and TFF3 were found in the deeper glandular structures. TFF2 was found in both surface and glandular epithelium. The co-ordinate expression patterns of these six markers were similar to gastric antrum epithelium. MUC2 expression was ubiquitously associated with goblet cells within intestinal metaplasia, occurring in 68% of patients, and was correlated with increasing proliferation in the epithelium.
Conclusions: Virtually all cells in Barrett's oesophagus epithelium displayed a secretory phenotype, demonstrating a co-ordinate gastric-type MUC and TFF expression. When MUC2 expression was more pronounced, the expression patterns of the other MUCs and the TFFs were increasingly disturbed. MUC2 expression may constitute a marker for early change in the phenotype of Barrett's oesophagus as a precancerous lesion.