Esophageal dilated intercellular spaces (DIS) and nonerosive reflux disease

Am J Gastroenterol. 2008 Apr;103(4):1021-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1572-0241.2007.01688.x. Epub 2007 Dec 12.


Esophageal mucosal dilated intercellular spaces (DIS) are frequently observed in patients with nonerosive reflux disease (NERD) and patients with esophagitis. The specificity of DIS is questionable, as it is present in up to 30% of asymptomatic healthy subjects and in patients with other esophageal disorders. DIS occurs in parallel with a drop in potential difference, diminished transepithelial resistance, and increased esophageal mucosal permeability. These alterations arise with exposure to acid and pepsin during gastroesophageal reflux, but the exact pathway of damage to the intercellular junctions remains unclear and seems to be multifactorial. Other noxious contents of the refluxate, such as bile acids, are harmful and DIS can also be induced by acute psychological stress. DIS can be assessed quantitatively with electron microscopy (EM), but it is also recognizable with light microscopy (LM). DIS can disappear after treatment with proton pump inhibitors (PPI); however, this is not the case in all NERD patients. A recent study showed that patients with NERD who are refractory to PPI might still have DIS; and animal experiments showed that persistence of DIS might be due to esophageal mucosal exposure to bile acids and/or psychological stress. In conclusion, DIS is a frequent but nonspecific histological feature of NERD. It can be caused by acid reflux, but bile acids in the refluxate and/or psychological stress can modulate the development or persistence of DIS. Although a causal relationship between DIS and heartburn has been proposed, it still needs to be proven and the underlying mechanisms investigated before considering DIS as a target for treatment of NERD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Esophageal Diseases / pathology*
  • Esophageal Diseases / physiopathology
  • Esophagus / pathology*
  • Esophagus / physiopathology
  • Esophagus / ultrastructure
  • Extracellular Space*
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / pathology*
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Mucous Membrane / pathology*
  • Mucous Membrane / physiopathology
  • Mucous Membrane / ultrastructure