Intestinal metaplasia (IM) is a biologically interesting and clinically relevant condition in which one differentiated type of epithelium is replaced by another that is morphologically similar to normal intestinal epithelium. Two classic examples of this are gastric IM and Barrett's esophagus (BE). In both, a chronic inflammatory microenvironment, provoked either by Helicobacter pylori infection of the stomach or acid and bile reflux into the esophagus, precedes the metaplasia. The Caudal-related homeodomain transcription factors Cdx1 and Cdx2 are critical regulators of the normal intestinal epithelial cell phenotype. Ectopic expression of Cdx1 and Cdx2 occurs in both gastric IM as well as in BE. This expression precedes the onset of the metaplasia and implies a causal role for these factors in this process. We review the observations regarding the role of chronic inflammation and the Cdx transcription factors in the pathogenesis of gastric IM and BE.
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