The homeobox intestinal differentiation factor CDX2 is selectively expressed in gastrointestinal adenocarcinomas

Mod Pathol. 2004 Nov;17(11):1392-9. doi: 10.1038/modpathol.3800205.


CDX2 is a homeobox domain-containing transcription factor that is important in the development and differentiation of the intestines. Based on recent studies, CDX2 expression is immunohistochemically detectable in normal colonic enterocytes and is retained in most, but not all, colorectal adenocarcinomas. CDX2 expression has also been documented in a subset of adenocarcinomas arising in the stomach, esophagus and ovary. In this study, we examined CDX2 expression in a series of large tissue microarrays representing 4652 samples of normal and neoplastic tissues. Strong nuclear staining for CDX2 was observed in 97.9% of 140 colonic adenomas, 85.7% of 1109 colonic adenocarcinomas overall and 81.8% of 55 mucinous variants. There was no significant difference in the staining of well-differentiated (96%) and moderately differentiated tumors (90.8%, P=0.18), but poorly differentiated tumors showed reduced overall expression (56.0%, P<0.000001). Correspondingly, there was an inverse correlation between CDX2 expression and tumor stage, with a significant decrease in staining between pT2 and pT3 tumors (95.8 vs 89.0%, P<0.012), and between pT3 and pT4 tumors (89.0 vs 79.8%, P<0.016). Analysis of 140 locally advanced, CDX2-positive colorectal adenocarcinomas coarrayed with their matching lymph node metastases revealed that expression of this marker was retained in 82.1% of the metastases. Consistent with previous reports, CDX2 staining was observed in gastric adenocarcinomas (n=71), more commonly in the intestinal-type than the diffuse-type (28.9 vs 11.5%, P<0.05). Occasional ovarian carcinomas were positive for CDX2, including mucinous (10.5%), endometrioid (9.3%) and serous variants (2%), but expression was either very rare or absent in primary carcinomas of the lung, breast, thyroid, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, kidney, endometrium and urinary bladder. A low frequency of CDX2 expression in pancreatic and biliary carcinomas observed on the microarrays was pursued further by comparing these tumors with ampullary adenocarcinomas on conventional sections. Ampullary adenocarcinomas were more commonly positive for CDX2 (19/24, 79%) than cholangiocarcinomas (1/11, 9%) and pancreatic carcinomas (3/20, 15%). In summary, CDX2 is a sensitive and specific marker for colorectal adenocarcinoma, although its expression is decreased among higher grade and stage tumors, and it is not invariably present in metastases from positive primaries. CDX2 may also be helpful in distinguishing adenocarcinomas of the ampulla from those arising in the pancreas and biliary tree.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / metabolism*
  • Adenocarcinoma / pathology*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis*
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Homeodomain Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Lymphatic Metastasis / pathology
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Prognosis


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Homeodomain Proteins