Is the etiology of eosinophilic esophagitis in adults a response to allergy or reflux injury? Study of cellular proliferation markers

Dis Esophagus. 2009;22(3):249-55. doi: 10.1111/j.1442-2050.2008.00896.x. Epub 2008 Dec 22.


Recent research suggests that allergy may be the key factor in the etiology of eosinophilic esophagitis (EE); however, historically, the condition was hypothesized as related to reflux injury to the esophageal mucosa. We studied this hypothesis by comparing markers of inflammation and cellular proliferation in EE and reflux esophagitis. Lower esophageal biopsies of adult patients with EE (n = 10), reflux esophagitis (n = 8), and normal controls (n = 13) were assessed quantitatively for the expression of the cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) enzyme, cellular proliferation, and oncogenic resistance to apoptosis using monoclonal antibodies for COX-2, Ki-67, and Bcl-2, respectively. Normal esophageal epithelium demonstrated weak diffuse uptake of COX-2 stain in the basal layer. No COX-2 expression was demonstrated in the EE group, significantly less than the control and reflux groups (P < 0.01 and P < 0.001, respectively). Cellular proliferation measured by Ki-67 expression was higher in EE and reflux compared with control (P < 0.001 and P < 0.01). Ki-67 expression, and thus degree of hyperplasia, appeared greater in EE than reflux, but was not statistically significant (P = 0.228). The degree of apoptosis was similar in all study groups. EE and reflux esophagitis are proliferative conditions expressing Ki-67 in higher concentrations than control. Mucosal proliferation in reflux esophagitis is COX-2 dependent. This novel research in EE has demonstrated downregulation of COX-2 expression compared with reflux esophagitis and control. We hypothesize that the allergy-related cytokine IL-13 known to inhibit COX-2 expression and found in high concentrations in EE as responsible for this. The pathogenesis of EE is likely dependent on allergy rather than reflux injury to the esophagus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Apoptosis
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Biopsy
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cyclooxygenase 2 / metabolism
  • Eosinophilia / etiology*
  • Eosinophilia / metabolism
  • Esophagitis / etiology*
  • Esophagitis / metabolism
  • Esophagus / pathology*
  • Female
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Ki-67 Antigen / immunology
  • Ki-67 Antigen / metabolism
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mucous Membrane / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / immunology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / metabolism


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Biomarkers
  • Ki-67 Antigen
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • Cyclooxygenase 2