Background: Barrett's esophagus is a premalignant condition whereby the normal stratified squamous esophageal epithelium undergoes a transdifferentiation program resulting in a simple columnar epithelium reminiscent of the small intestine. These changes are typically associated with the stratified squamous epithelium chronically exposed to acid and bile salts as a result of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Despite this well-defined epidemiologic association between acid reflux and Barrett's esophagus, the genetic changes that induce this transdifferentiation process in esophageal keratinocytes have remained undefined. Methodology/Principal Findings: To begin to identify the genetic changes responsible for transdifferentiaiton in Barrett's esophagus, we performed a microarray analysis of normal esophageal, Barrett's esophagus and small intestinal biopsy specimens to identify candidate signaling pathways and transcription factors that may be involved. Through this screen we identified the Cdx1 homeodomain transcription factor and the c-myc pathway as possible candidates. Cdx1 and c-myc were then tested for their ability to induce transdifferentiation in immortalized human esophageal keratinocytes using organotypic culturing methods. Analyses of these cultures reveal that c-myc and cdx1 cooperate to induce mucin production and changes in keratin expression that are observed in the epithelium of Barrett's esophagus. Conclusions/Significance: These data demonstrate the ability of Cdx1 and c-myc to initiate the earliest stages of transdifferentiation of esophageal keratinocytes toward a cell fate characteristic of Barrett's esophagus.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
- General Agricultural and Biological Sciences