Molecular imaging using fluorescent lectins permits rapid endoscopic identification of dysplasia in Barrett's esophagus

Nat Med. 2012 Jan 15;18(2):315-21. doi: 10.1038/nm.2616.


Barrett's esophagus is an example of a pre-invasive state, for which current endoscopic surveillance methods to detect dysplasia are time consuming and inadequate. The prognosis of cancer arising in Barrett's esophagus is improved by early detection at the stage of mucosal carcinoma or high-grade dysplasia. Molecular imaging methods could revolutionize the detection of dysplasia, provided they permit a wide field of view and highlight abnormalities in real time. We show here that cell-surface glycans are altered in the progression from Barrett's esophagus to adenocarcinoma and lead to specific changes in lectin binding patterns. We chose wheat germ agglutinin as a candidate lectin with clinical potential. The binding of wheat germ agglutinin to human tissue was determined to be specific, and we validated this specific binding by successful endoscopic visualization of high-grade dysplastic lesions, which were not detectable by conventional endoscopy, with a high signal-to-background ratio of over 5.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Barrett Esophagus / diagnosis*
  • Barrett Esophagus / pathology
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / pathology
  • Esophagoscopy / methods*
  • Esophagus / metabolism
  • Esophagus / pathology
  • Female
  • Fluorescence
  • Glycosphingolipids / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Molecular Imaging / methods*
  • Precancerous Conditions / diagnosis
  • Precancerous Conditions / pathology
  • Wheat Germ Agglutinins* / metabolism


  • Glycosphingolipids
  • Wheat Germ Agglutinins