Multifocal heterogeneity in villin and Ep-CAM expression in Barrett's esophagus

Int J Cancer. 1996 Mar 28;66(1):48-54. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1097-0215(19960328)66:1<48::AID-IJC9>3.0.CO;2-Z.


Barrett's esophagus (BE) is a metaplastic change of the squamous esophageal epithelium to columnar gastric or intestinal-like epithelium. BE is associated with long-standing gastroesophageal reflux disease and carries an increased risk for dysplasia and adenocarcinoma. Little if any is known regarding the differentiation state of esophageal metaplasia and its relationship to carcinogenesis. In this study, we investigated the potential of villin, a cytoskeletal protein, and Ep-CAM, a glandular epithelial glycoprotein, to serve as markers for enterocytic differentiation in BE at the molecular level. Endoscopic mucosal biopsy samples of normal esophagus, BE, stomach and duodenum were collected from 23 patients with BE. Biopsies were analyzed for villin and Ep-CAM expression by immunoblotting, and in some cases for the presence of microvilli by electron microscopy. By mapping of BE segments in 6 patients, correlations were also made between the histologic evidence of metaplasia and villin expression. Villin was uniformly expressed in all duodenal samples but was not detected in normal esophagus and stomach. In BE biopsies, villin expression was limited to the subset of patients whose adjacent biopsies showed microvilli by electron microscopy. In several patients studied, however, the expression of villin and the epithelial glycoprotein Ep-CAM differed among various regions of esophageal metaplasia within the same patient. Mapping studies failed to reveal any correlation among histologic evidence of metaplasia, dysplasia and villin expression and confirmed the multifocal heterogeneity of villin expression in BE. Preliminary data of 4 adenocarcinoma patients studied showed that villin expression was absent in 3 and very low in 1 patient. Ep-CAM was highly expressed in all adenocarcinoma patients. Our results show that BE represents a complex epithelium with significant heterogeneity in antigen expression and ultrastructural morphologic features. This molecular heterogeneity supports the presence of different stages of differentiation within the same epithelium.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / metabolism
  • Adenocarcinoma / pathology
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / metabolism*
  • Biomarkers
  • Blotting, Western
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules / metabolism*
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Epithelial Cell Adhesion Molecule
  • Esophageal Diseases / metabolism
  • Esophageal Diseases / pathology*
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Microfilament Proteins / metabolism*
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Middle Aged
  • Precancerous Conditions / metabolism
  • Precancerous Conditions / pathology*


  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • Biomarkers
  • Carrier Proteins
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules
  • Epithelial Cell Adhesion Molecule
  • Microfilament Proteins
  • villin