CDC2/CDK1 expression in esophageal adenocarcinoma and precursor lesions serves as a diagnostic and cancer progression marker and potential novel drug target.


Esophageal adenocarcinoma arises through well-defined precursor lesions (Barrett esophagus), although only a subset of these lesions advances to invasive adenocarcinoma. The lack of markers predicting progression in Barrett esophagus, typical presentation at advanced stage, and limitations of conventional chemotherapy result in >90% mortality for Barrett-associated adenocarcinomas. To identify potential prognostic markers and therapeutic targets, we compared gene expression profiles from Barrett-associated esophageal adenocarcinoma cell lines (BIC1, SEG1, KYAE, OE33) and normal esophageal epithelial scrapings utilizing the Affymetrix U133_A gene expression platform. We identified 560 transcripts with >3-fold up-regulation in the adenocarcinoma cell lines compared with normal epithelium. Utilizing tissue microarrays composed of normal esophageal squamous mucosa (n = 20), Barrett esophagus (n = 10), low-grade dysplasia (n = 14), high-grade dysplasia (n = 27), adenocarcinoma (n = 59), and node metastases (n = 27), we confirmed differential up-regulation of three proteins (Cdc2/Cdk1, Cdc5, and Igfbp3) in adenocarcinomas and Barrett lesions. Protein expression mirrored histologic progression; thus, 87% of low-grade dysplasias had at least focal surface Cdc2/Cdk1 and 20% had >5% surface staining; 96% of high-grade dysplasias expressed abundant surface Cdc2/Cdk1, while invasive adenocarcinoma and metastases demonstrated ubiquitous expression. Esophageal adenocarcinoma cell lines treated with the novel CDC2/CDK1 transcriptional inhibitor, tetra-O-methyl nordihydroguaiaretic acid (EM-1421, formerly named M4N) demonstrated a dose-dependent reduction in cell proliferation, paralleling down-regulation of CDC2/CDK1 transcript and protein levels. These findings suggest a role for CDC2/CDK1 in esophageal adenocarcinogenesis, both as a potential histopathologic marker of dysplasia and a putative treatment target.