Background: The CDX2 (caudal-related homeobox gene 2) and PITX1 (pituitary homeobox 1) genes have essential roles in human development. Forced expression of Cdx2 alone in the murine stomach results in gastric intestinal metaplasia (IM). This study was undertaken to investigate the expression pattern of these critical morphogenesis genes in the Barrett's multistage carcinogenesis model.
Methods: CDX2 and PITX1 messenger RNA (mRNA) expression levels, relative to the control gene beta-actin, were measured by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction in specimens of Barrett's IM (n = 21), dysplasia (n = 18), adenocarcinoma (n = 20), and matching normal squamous esophagus tissues (n = 39) collected from 19 patients with Barrett's esophagus and 20 patients with esophageal adenocarcinoma. CDX2 protein expression was assessed by immunohistochemistry in specimens of normal squamous esophagus (n = 13), IM (n = 10), dysplasia (n = 8,) and adenocarcinoma (n = 5).
Results: The median relative CDX2 mRNA expression was approximately 200 times higher in Barrett's esophagus tissues (0.83) than in matching normal squamous esophagus (0.004) in the patients with Barrett's esophagus (P < .001). The mRNA expression in cancer tissues (0.49) was also higher than in matching normal squamous esophagus specimens (0.009, P < .001). There was no significant difference between the mRNA expression levels in Barrett's esophagus and adenocarcinoma. There was no CDX2 protein expression in normal squamous esophagus, but moderate to strong protein expression was seen in all Barrett's tissues and in a majority of the dysplasia and adenocarcinoma cells. Relative median PITX1 mRNA expression was decreased in Barrett's esophagus (8.02 for all specimens), compared with normal esophagus specimens (47.46 for all specimens, P < .001), and was further reduced in cancer specimens (2.21), compared with either Barrett's esophagus or normal esophagus (both P < .001). Wilcoxon testwas used for all P values shown.
Conclusions: CDX2 mRNA and CDX2 protein expression are upregulated in Barrett's IM tissues, compared with normal squamous esophagus, and remain elevated in dysplasia and adenocarcinoma tissues. In contrast, PITX1 mRNA expression is decreased in Barrett's esophagus, compared with matching normal squamous esophagus specimens, and is further decreased in Barrett's-associated cancer. These descriptive findings suggest a possible role for these genes in the Barrett's metaplasia-dysplasia-adenocarcinoma sequence.