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BACKGROUND & AIMS - The pathological and molecular changes associated with colitis-associated colorectal cancer and sporadic colorectal cancer are considered to be distinct. Therefore, we have used a mouse model of ulcerative colitis to determine if expression of the enzyme cyclooxygenase (COX)-2 is increased in colitis-associated tumors.
METHODS - Reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction and Western analysis were used to determine if COX-2 expression is increased in these tumors; in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry were used to determine the localization of COX-2.
RESULTS - Increased levels of COX-2 messenger RNA and protein were detected in interleukin (IL)-10 (-/-) tumors and in an inflamed region of the colon that contained no macroscopically detected tumors. This expression was localized to the inflammatory cells associated with ulcerated regions of the tumor by in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry. Increased COX-2 expression was also associated with the areas of the tumor expressing alpha-smooth muscle actin, which is a molecular marker for subepithelial myofibroblasts. The association between COX-2 expression and subepithelial myofibroblasts was also noted in tumors derived from the multiple intestinal neoplasia mice (Min/+) and from carcinogen-induced tumors.
CONCLUSIONS - These results indicate that COX-2 is expressed very early in the pathogenesis of colitis-associated tumors, and that the expression pattern is similar to that seen in tumors from azoxymethane-treated and Min/+ mice.
Evidence is accumulating which indicates that cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) is involved in the pathogenesis of colorectal cancer. We evaluated the expression of COX-2 in replication error-positive (RER) colon cancers, colon cancers metastatic to liver and azoxymethane (AOM)-induced rat colonic tumors. Immunohistochemistry showed that COX-2 was low to undetectable in normal human mucosa, but abundant in the RER adenocarcinomas we examined. COX-2 immunoreactivity in metastatic colon cancers was less abundant, but clearly detectable. In the colon of AOM-treated rats, COX-2 protein was not detectable in normal mucosa, but present in most of the epithelial cells comprising the tumors. The TGF-beta1 staining pattern in these human and rat tumors was similar to that observed for COX-2. The role of TGF-beta in RER adenocarcinomas is complex because of the increased mutation rate of TGF-beta type II receptors. Northern analysis showed abundant TGF-beta1 mRNA in AOM-induced tumors, but not in paired mucosa. TGF-beta1 induced the expression of COX-2 mRNA and protein in intestinal epithelial cells (IEC-6). Chronic TGF-beta1 treatment caused a TGF-beta-dependent overexpression of COX-2 in rat intestinal epithelial cells (RIE-1). TGF-beta1 may regulate COX-2 expression during the colonic adenoma to carcinoma sequence.
The physical interaction between beta-catenin and the adenomatous polyposis coli (APC) gene, and the ability of APC to regulate cytoplasmic levels of beta-catenin suggest a role for beta-catenin in colorectal carcinogenesis. In this study, we found that beta-catenin immunoreactivity was detected exclusively in the cell membrane and cytoplasm of morphologically normal intestinal epithelial cells with predominant distribution in the differentiated nonproliferative cell population. In contrast, beta-catenin was localized predominantly in the nucleus of adenomas from Min/+ mice and transgenic mice expressing a mutant truncated form of the APC gene (Apc(delta716) mice). Beta-catenin was expressed predominantly at the cell membrane and cytoplasm of the nontransformed rat intestinal epithelial (RIE-1) cells in culture, whereas predominantly nuclear localization of beta-catenin was observed in the human colon cancer cell line SW480. In the azoxymethane (AOM) treated rats, overexpression and nuclear localization of beta-catenin was observed in all adenomas. Previous studies have indicated the incidence of APC mutations amongst AOM-induced tumors to be 15% or less. These results demonstrate that nuclear localization of beta-catenin is a common event in colorectal tumorigenesis.