Molecular pathways: pathogenesis and clinical implications of microbiome alteration in esophagitis and Barrett esophagus

Clin Cancer Res. 2012 Apr 15;18(8):2138-44. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-11-0934. Epub 2012 Feb 16.


Esophageal adenocarcinoma is preceded by the development of reflux-related intestinal metaplasia or Barrett esophagus, which is a response to inflammation of the esophageal squamous mucosa, reflux esophagitis. Gastroesophageal reflux impairs the mucosal barrier in the distal esophagus, allowing chronic exposure of the squamous epithelium to the diverse microbial ecosystem or microbiome and inducing chronic inflammation. The esophageal microbiome is altered in both esophagitis and Barrett esophagus, characterized by a significant decrease in gram-positive bacteria and an increase in gram-negative bacteria in esophagitis and Barrett esophagus. Lipopolysaccharides (LPS), a major structure of the outer membrane in gram-negative bacteria, can upregulate gene expression of proinflammatory cytokines via activation of the Toll-like receptor 4 and NF-κB pathway. The potential impact of LPS on reflux esophagitis may be through relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter via inducible nitric oxide synthase and by delaying gastric emptying via cyclooxygenase-2. Chronic inflammation may play a critical role in the progression from benign to malignant esophageal disease. Therefore, analysis of the pathways leading to chronic inflammation in the esophagus may help to identify biomarkers in patients with Barrett esophagus for neoplastic progression and provide insight into molecular events suitable for therapeutic intervention in prevention of esophageal adenocarcinoma development in patients with reflux esophagitis and Barrett esophagus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / etiology
  • Adenocarcinoma / microbiology
  • Adenocarcinoma / pathology
  • Barrett Esophagus / microbiology*
  • Barrett Esophagus / pathology
  • Cyclooxygenase 2 / metabolism
  • Cyclooxygenase 2 Inhibitors
  • Cytokines / biosynthesis
  • Disease Progression
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / etiology
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / microbiology*
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / pathology
  • Esophagitis / microbiology*
  • Esophagitis / pathology
  • Esophagus / metabolism
  • Esophagus / microbiology
  • Esophagus / pathology
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / pathology*
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Inflammation
  • Lipopolysaccharides / immunology
  • Metagenome*
  • NF-kappa B / metabolism
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type II / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type II / metabolism
  • Toll-Like Receptor 4 / metabolism


  • Cyclooxygenase 2 Inhibitors
  • Cytokines
  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • NF-kappa B
  • Toll-Like Receptor 4
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type II
  • Cyclooxygenase 2