Pancreatic regenerating gene (reg I) messenger RNA is overexpressed within the pancreas following injury and resection. Its level of expression corresponds to the level of cellular dedifferentiation. Human reg I has been localized to chromosome 2p12, and ectopic expression of its mRNA has been found within colorectal tumors. We postulated that colorectal production of reg I might either be a marker for the presence of cancer or define mucosa at risk for development of neoplasia. Using a monoclonal antibody to reg I, regenerating gene protein was histochemically mapped in 56 cases of documented colorectal adenocarcinoma. In sections of colon from normal control subjects no reg I protein was noted, whereas 58.9% of the specimens from cancer patients stained positive for reg I. Although a correlation was noted between reg I staining and Dukes' stage, there was no correlation with histologic grade or 5-year patient survival. In 39 of 55 cancer specimens the transition zone (interface) between the neoplasm and normal mucosa was visualized; 100% of the transition zones contained cells that stained strongly positive for reg I. We conclude that reg I protein is ectopically expressed in colorectal mucosa at the transition zone of colorectal cancer, and occasionally within the tumor itself. Although ectopic reg I expression in colorectal epithelia is not a marker for the presence of carcinoma, it may be a sensitive marker for mucosa at risk for development of neoplasia.
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