Acidic Bile Salts Induce Epithelial to Mesenchymal Transition via VEGF Signaling in Non-Neoplastic Barrett's Cells

Qiuyang D Zhang, Agoston T. Agoston, Thai H Pham, Wei Zhang, Xi Zhang, Xiaofang Huo, Sui Peng, Manisha Bajpai, Kiron Das, Robert D. Odze, Stuart J Spechler, Rhonda F Souza

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Background & Aims: Metaplastic glands buried under squamous epithelium are frequently detected in patients with Barrett esophagus (BE). This subsquamous intestinal metaplasia might be responsible for cancers that develop despite endoscopic surveillance and for metaplasia recurrences after endoscopic ablation. To determine whether reflux induces BE cells to undergo an epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) that produces subsquamous intestinal metaplasia, we assessed EMT in BE cells exposed to acidic bile salts and in rat and human esophageal tissues. Methods: We compared markers of EMT and cell motility in trans-well and 3-dimensional organotypic culture systems among dysplastic BE epithelial cell lines, nondysplastic telomerase-immortalized BE cell lines (BAR-T), and BAR-T cells exposed acutely or for 20 weeks to acidic bile salts. Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) A was inhibited with a neutralizing antibody or CRISPR-Cas9n and VEGF receptor 2 was inhibited with SU1498 or shRNA, and cells were analyzed by immunohistochemistry, quantitative polymerase chain reaction, or immunoblotting for markers of VEGF signaling and EMT; cell motility was assessed by trans-well assay. We used immunohistochemistry and quantitative polymerase chain reaction to assess EMT markers in the columnar-lined esophagus of rats with surgically induced reflux esophagitis and in esophagectomy specimens from patients with BE. Results: We detected features of EMT (decreased cadherin 1 [CDH1]; increased fibronectin 1, vimentin, and matrix metalloproteinase 2; and increased motility) in dysplastic BE epithelial cell lines and in BAR-T cells exposed for 20 weeks, but not in unexposed BAR-T cells. Acute acidic bile salt exposure induced expression of zinc finger E-box binding homeobox 1 and 2 (ZEB1/2) in BAR-T cells, which decreased their expression of CDH1 and increased motility; inhibitors of VEGF signaling blocked these effects. Columnar-lined esophagus of rats with reflux esophagitis had increased expression of ZEB1/2 and decreased expression of CDH1 compared with controls. Dysplastic BE tissues also had significantly increased levels of ZEB1 and significantly decreased levels of CDH1 compared with nondysplastic BE tissues. Conclusions: In BE cell lines, acidic bile salts induce EMT by VEGF signaling, which increases expression of ZEB1/2, repressors of CDH1. These observations suggest that reflux induces EMT in metaplastic BE tissues, which promotes development of subsquamous intestinal metaplasia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)130-144.e10
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2019


  • Carcinogenesis
  • Esophageal Adenocarcinoma
  • Esophagojejunostomy
  • Gastroesophageal

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hepatology
  • Gastroenterology


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