Background: One of the first steps in multistage colonic carcinogenesis is increased cell proliferation and an upward shift of the proliferation zone of colonic crypts. In the present study, progression in cell kinetics was followed up at all sequential stages of colonic carcinogenesis, starting with aberrant crypt foci (ACF), the earliest putative preneoplastic lesions, hyperplastic and dysplastic polyps, and invasive carcinomas.
Materials and methods: Colonic tissue and tumor specimens were prospectively obtained from 65 patients treated at our hospital for adenocarcinoma or malignant polyps. For identification of ACFs, dissected mucosal strips obtained from patients with colorectal cancer were stained with 0.1% methylene blue and scanned under dissecting microscope. Paraffin-embedded ACFs and macroscopic lesions were serially sectioned, deparaffinized, and stained with a monoclonal antiproliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA) antibody. The PCNA-labelling index (PCNA-LI), expressed as a ratio of positively stained nuclei to total nuclei counted, was calculated separately for basal, middle, and upper colonic crypt compartments. A comparison of the PCNA-LI was made for each compartment in normal mucosa, and hyperplastic and dysplastic lesions.
Results: A stepwise increase in the PCNA-LI was observed during neoplastic progression of colonic lesions. The two most important variables of increased cell proliferation, expressed as PCNA-LI per crypt compartment, were the presence of dysplasia and the size of dysplastic lesions.
Conclusions: In colorectal carcinogenesis, hyperproliferation with upward expansion of proliferative compartment is a characteristic feature at all stages of malignant progression.