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Cancer J. 2003 Jul-Aug;9(4):302-12.

Loss of Smad signaling in human colorectal cancer is associated with advanced disease and poor prognosis.

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Division of Medical Oncology, Department of Internal Medicine, UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, New Brunswick, New Jersey 08903, USA.



Based largely on in vitro investigations and animal studies, investigators believe that disruptions of transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta) signaling contribute to the development and progression of human colorectal cancer. The purpose of this study was to directly assess the status of the TGF-beta signaling pathway in colorectal cancer and determine the effects of its disruption on clinical behavior and outcome.


Smad proteins are the principal intracellular components of the TGF-beta signaling pathway. We conducted a high-throughput analysis of the expression patterns of Smad2, phosphorylated (activated) Smad2 (pSmad2), and Smad4 in more than 600 human colorectal cancer specimens assembled in tissue microarrays.


The vast majority (93.8%; 95% CI: 92%-96%) of colorectal cancers expressed phosphorylated Smad2, indicating the ability of the tumors to survive and proliferate within a microenvironment that contains bioactive TGF-beta. Twelve of 633 (1.9%; 95% CI: 1%-3%) cases failed to express Smad2, and 15 of 641 (2.3%; 95% CI: 1%-4%) cases failed to express Smad4. Moreover, 29 of 615 (4.7%; 95% CI: 3%-7%) of cases expressed Smad2 but not its activated form (pSmad2), suggesting the presence of a TGF-beta receptor defect. Based on an analysis of 577 cases for which clinical outcome information was available, failure to express Smad2, pSmad2, or Smad4 was associated with advanced-stage disease, the presence of lymph node metastases, and a significantly shorter overall survival (median survival: 35 vs 58 months).


Loss of Smad activation and/or expression occurs in approximately 10% of colorectal cancers. This subset has a poor prognosis because of its association with advanced disease and the presence of lymph node metastases at diagnosis.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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