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The molecular biology of esophageal carcinoma.

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Univ. of Maryland, Med/GI, Baltimore 21201, USA.


There have been many new developments in our understanding of esophageal carcinoma biology over the past several years. Information regarding both of the major forms of this disease, adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, has accumulated in conjunction with data on precursor conditions such as Barrett's esophagus. Some of the most interesting and promising findings have included aneuploidy (abnormal DNA content), amplification and overexpression of proto-oncogenes, loss of heterozygosity at multiple chromosomal loci, and tumor suppressor gene inactivation. Of particular importance is mutation and deletion involving the tumor suppressor gene p53, but abnormalities in the retinoblastoma, deleted in colon cancer, and adenomatous polyposis coli genes have been described as well. Recently, two important cancer pathways implicated in the genesis of multiple tumor types have also been inculpated in esophageal carcinogenesis: the cyclin kinase inhibitor cascade and the DNA mismatch repair process. Alterations in the p16 and p15 cyclin kinase inhibitors, including point mutation and homozygous deletion, have been reported in primary esophageal tumors and/or tumor-derived cell lines. Microsatellite instability, the hallmark of DNA mismatch repair defects, has been detected in esophageal cancers, particularly those associated with Barrett's metaplasia (where it may represent an early event). Further developments in the field of molecular carcinogenesis of esophageal malignancies promise to yield improvements in the early detection, prognostic categorization, and perhaps eventual gene-based therapy of this deadly disease.

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