Barrett's oesophagus is the replacement of normal squamous oesophageal epithelium with an intestinalized columnar epithelium. Although some insight has been gained as to what Barrett's oesophagus is, how this columnar epithelium emerges from within a stratified squamous epithelium remains an unanswered question. We have sought to determine whether oesophageal keratinocytes can be trans-differentiated into Barrett's oesophagus cells. Using an Affymetrix microarray, we found unexpectedly that gene-expression patterns in the Barrett's oesophagus were only slightly more similar to the normal small intestine than they were to the normal oesophagus. Thus gene-expression patterns suggest significant molecular similarities remain between Barrett's oesophagus cells and normal squamous oesophageal epithelium, despite their histological resemblance with intestine. We next determined whether directed expression of intestine-specific transcription factors could induce intestinalization of keratinocytes. Retroviral-mediated Cdx2 (Caudal-type homeobox 2) expression in immortalized human oesophageal keratinocytes engineered with human telomerase reverse transcriptase (EPC2-hTERT cells) could be established transiently, but not maintained, and was associated with a reduction in cell proliferation. Co-expression of cyclin D1 rescued proliferation in the Cdx2-expressing cells, but co-expression of dominant-negative p53 did not. Cdx2 expression in the EPC2-hTERT.D1 cells did not induce intestinalization. However, when combined with treatments that induce chromatin remodelling, there was a significant induction of Barrett's oesophagus-associated genes. Studies are ongoing to determine whether other intestinal transcription factors, either alone or in combination, can provoke greater intestinalization of oesophageal keratinocytes. We conclude that, on the basis of gene-expression patterns, Barrett's oesophagus epithelial cells may represent an intermediate between oesophageal keratinocytes and intestinal epithelial cells. Moreover, our findings suggest that it may be possible to induce Barrett's oesophagus epithelial cells from oesophageal keratinocytes by altering the expression of certain critical genes.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes