The incidence of esophageal adenocarcinoma (EAC) is rising in the United States. An important risk factor for EAC is the presence of Barrett esophagus (BE). BE is the replacement of normal squamous esophageal epithelium with a specialized columnar epithelium in response to chronic acid and bile reflux. However, the emergence of BE from squamous keratinocytes has not yet been demonstrated. Our research has focused on this. Wnt and cyclooxygenase 2 (Cox2) are two pathways whose activation has been associated with BE and progression to EAC, but their role has not been tested experimentally. To explore their contribution, we engineered a human esophageal keratinocyte cell line to express either a dominant-active Wnt effector CatCLef or a Cox2 complementary DNA. In a two-dimensional culture environment, Cox2 expression increases cell proliferation and migration, but neither transgene induces known BE markers. In contrast, when these cells were placed into three-dimensional organotypic culture conditions, we observed more profound effects. CatCLef-expressing cells were more proliferative, developed a thicker epithelium, and upregulated Notch signaling and several BE markers including NHE2. Cox2 expression also increased cell proliferation and induced a thicker epithelium. More importantly, we observed cysts form within the epithelium, filled with intestinal mucins including Muc5B and Muc17. This suggests that Cox2 expression in a three-dimensional culture environment induces a lineage of mucin-secreting cells and supports an important causal role for Cox2 in BE pathogenesis. We conclude that in vitro modeling of BE pathogenesis can be improved by enhancing Wnt signaling and Cox2 activity and using three-dimensional organotypic culture conditions.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Cancer Research