Epidermal growth factor (EGF) has been implicated in mitogenesis and oncogenesis in the gastrointestinal tract. To determine the role of EGF in oesophageal disease, its quantity and distribution in the oesophageal mucosa of control subjects and patients with oesophageal disease were studied. Oesophageal biopsy specimens, taken 20-40 cm from the incisors in 72 patients, were graded histologically and adjacent specimens were taken for immunohistochemical analysis of the distribution of EGF. In patients with Barrett's columnar lined oesophagus, specimens were also taken from the gastric cardia for comparison. Twenty two biopsy specimens showed oesophagitis, 20 Barrett's mucosa, and 30 were histologically normal. EGF was found in the capillary endothelium of the normal oesophageal papillae and basal mucosa. Significantly more EGF positive papillae were found in the normal mucosa (81%) than in the inflamed mucosa (42%) (p < 0.001). The 20 patients with Barrett's mucosa showed abnormal expression of EGF in 25% of the isthmus and superficial epithelial cells. This study has shown that EGF is found only in the endothelial cells of the capillaries of the normal oesophageal mucosa and that the peptide is detectable significantly less frequently than normal in the inflamed oesophageal mucosa. EGF is also abnormally present, in large quantities, in the cytoplasm of the epithelial cells of Barrett's mucosa compared with gastric mucosa.
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