Assessment of mucosal ornithine decarboxylase (ODC) activity in the human large bowel may be of value as a marker of potential malignant risk. Its value as a marker of premalignancy in the upper gastrointestinal tract is less clear. Using a [14C]-ornithine bioassay, gastric mucosal ODC activity was measured in 32 normal subjects and 22 patients with confirmed gastric cancer. These results were compared with 47 patients at increased risk of upper gastrointestinal malignancy, (32 patients with partial gastric resection, 15 patients with familial adenomatous polyposis). Median ODC activity in normal subjects was 371 pmol/mg protein/h, (interquartile range (IQR), 230-617). There was no variation with age or sex and no relation to Helicobacter pylori status. Normal subjects had significantly lower ODC activity than patients with a gastric resection or confirmed gastric cancer, but similar to patients with familial adenomatous polyposis. Furthermore, no difference in activity was identified between patients with a gastric resection and established gastric cancer. ODC activity was, however, significantly increased in areas of gastric atrophy or intestinal metaplasia, regardless of the clinical group from which the samples were obtained. It is concluded that measurement of mucosal ODC activity does not provide additional predictive information of malignant risk in the stomach and investigation of other potential biomarkers of malignancy is warranted.
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