OBJECTIVES: The histological definition of Barrett's esophagus (BE) is debated, particularly regarding the phenotype of its metaplastic columnar epithelium. Histologically proven intestinal metaplasia (IM) was the sine qua non condition for a diagnosis of BE but, more recently, non-intestinalized (i.e., cardiac gastric-type; GM) columnar metaplasia has been re-included in the spectrum of Barrett's histology. MicroRNAs modulate cell commitment, and are also reportedly dysregulated in Barrett's carcinogenesis. This study investigates miRNA expression in the histological spectrum of esophageal columnar metaplastic changes, specifically addressing the biological profile of GM vs. IM. METHODS: A study was performed to discover microRNA microarray in 30 matching mucosa samples obtained from 10 consecutive BE patients; for each patient, biopsy tissue samples were obtained from squamous, GM and intestinalized epithelium. Microarray findings were further validated by qRT-PCR analysis in another bioptic series of 75 mucosa samples. RESULTS: MicroRNA profiling consistently disclosed metaplasia-specific microRNA signatures. Six microRNAs were significantly dysregulated across the histological phenotypes considered; five of them (two overexpressed (hsa-miR-192; -miR-215) and three under-expressed (hsa-miR-18a*; -miR-203, and -miR-205)) were progressively dysregulated in the phenotypic sequence from squamous to gastric-type, to intestinal-type mucosa samples. CONCLUSIONS: A consistent microRNA expression signature underlies both gastric- and intestinal-type esophageal metaplasia. The pattern of microRNA dysregulation suggests that GM may further progress to IM. The clinico-pathological implications of these molecular profiles prompt further study on the "personalized" cancer risk associated with each of these metaplastic transformations.
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