Intestinal differentiation in metaplastic, nongoblet columnar epithelium in the esophagus

Hejin P. Hahn, Patricia L. Blount, Kamrun Ayub, Kiron M. Das, Rhonda Souza, Stuart Spechler, Robert D. Odze

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131 Scopus citations


Barrett esophagus (BE) is defined by the presence of metaplastic esophageal columnar epithelium with goblet cells within endoscopically recognizable areas of the esophagus. However, some carcinomas in BE, or from the gastroesophageal junction region, develop within mucosa devoid of goblet cells. However, the biologic properties, pathogenesis, and risk of malignancy of metaplastic, esophageal nongoblet columnar epithelium, is, essentially, unknown. In this study, 89 patients with metaplastic esophageal columnar epithelium were evaluated immunohistochemically for markers of intestinal differentiation, such as MUC2, DAS-1, Villin, and CDX2, a marker of gastric differentiation (MUC5AC), and Ki67, a marker of cell proliferation. Of the 89 patients, 59 had columnar metaplasia with goblet cells (BE), which were further separated into lowdensity goblet cell and high-density goblet cell groups based on the percentage of crypts with goblet cells, and 30 patients had columnar metaplasia of the esophagus without goblet cells. As controls, gastric biopsies from 19 age and sex matched patients without esophageal or gastric pathology were used. The rate of positivity of the markers and the location of Ki67 staining was evaluated only in non-goblet columnar epithelium from all patient groups. Patients with metaplastic esophageal columnar epithelium without goblet cells showed positivity for MUC5AC, MUC2, DAS-1, Villin, and CDX2 in 100%, 0%, 30%, 17%, and 43% of cases, respectively. 17% of cases showed aberrant surface Ki67 positivity. These values were significantly higher than gastric controls, which showed absence of staining for all markers except MUC5AC (100%). In patients with metaplastic esophageal columnar epithelium with goblet cells (BE) a significant increased rate of staining was observed for all markers, except MUC5AC. In addition, both MUC2 and surface Ki67 staining were significantly increased in BE patients with high-density goblet cells versus those with low-density goblet cells. In a separate analysis in which metaplastic esophageal nongoblet epithelium was evaluated in areas of mucosa devoid of goblet cells compared with areas of mucosa with goblet cells, from patients who had goblet cells elsewhere in the mucosa (N=59), no significant differences were observed with regard to the percentage of cases that stained with any of the markers in the nongoblet epithelium in areas devoid of goblet cells, similar to the patient group with metaplastic esophageal epithelium without goblet cells (N=30). Similar to above, in all cases, expression of intestinal markers increased in areas of mucosa adjacent to goblet cells. This study provides evidence that metaplastic esophageal columnar epithelium without goblet cells shows phenotypic evidence of intestinal differentiation and supports the theory that squamous epithelium converts initially to nongoblet columnar epithelium before goblet cell metaplasia. Further prospective studies are needed to evaluate the pathogenetic sequence, natural history, and risk of malignancy of metaplastic esophageal nongoblet epithelium.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1006-1015
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Journal of Surgical Pathology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2009


  • Barrett esophagus
  • Dysplasia
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • Intestinal metaplasia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Surgery
  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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