INTRODUCTION: Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) of Barrett's esophagus (BE) inflicts a wound spanning 3 epithelial types (stratified squamous, Barrett's metaplasia, gastric epithelium), yet the esophageal injury heals almost completely with squamous epithelium. Knowledge of how this unique wound heals might elucidate mechanisms underlying esophageal metaplasia. We aimed to prospectively and systematically characterize the early endoscopic and histologic features of RFA wound healing. METHODS: Patients with nondysplastic BE had endoscopy with systematic esophageal photographic mapping, biopsy, and volumetric laser endomicroscopy performed before and at 1, 2, and 4 weeks after RFA. RESULTS: Seven patients (6 men; mean age 56.1 ± 10.9 years) completed this study. Squamous re-epithelialization of RFA wounds did not only progress exclusively through squamous cells extending from the proximal wound edge but also progressed through islands of squamous epithelium sprouting throughout the ablated segment. Volumetric laser endomicroscopy revealed significant post-RFA increases in subepithelial glandular structures associated with the squamous islands. In 2 patients, biopsies of such islands revealed newly forming squamous epithelium contiguous with immature-appearing squamous cells arising from esophageal submucosal gland ducts. Subsquamous intestinal metaplasia (SSIM) was found in biopsies at 2 and/or 4 weeks after RFA in 6 of 7 patients. DISCUSSION: RFA wounds in BE are re-epithelialized, not just by squamous cells from the proximal wound margin but by scattered squamous islands in which esophageal submucosal gland duct cells seem to redifferentiate into the squamous progenitors that fuel squamous re-epithelialization. SSIM can be found in most patients during the healing process. We speculate that this SSIM might underlie Barrett's recurrences after apparently successful eradication.
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