Role of retinoic acid receptors in squamous-cell carcinoma in human esophagus

I Bergheim1, E Wolfgarten2, E Bollschweiler2, AH Holscher2, Ch Bode1, A Parlesak1
1Department of Physiology of Nutrition, Hohenheim University (140e), Garbenstrasse 28, 70599 Stuttgart, Germany
2Department of Visceral and Vascular Surgery, University of Cologne, Joseph-Stelzmann-Strasse 9, 50931, Cologne, Germany
DOI: 10.1186/1477-3163-4-20


Background: Worldwide, cancer in the esophagus ranks among the 10 most common cancers. Alterations of retinoic acid receptors (e.g. RARα, β, γ, and RXRα, β, γ) expression is considered to play an important role in development of squamous-cell carcinoma (SCC), which is the most common esophageal cancer. Alcohol consumption and smoking, which can alter retinoic acid receptor levels, have been identified as key risk factors in the development of carcinoma in the aero-digestive tract. Therefore, the aim of the present study was to evaluate protein levels of retinoic acid receptors (i.e. RARα, β, γ, and RXRβ) in esophageal SCC and surrounding normal tissue of patients with untreated SCC and controls.
Methods: All study participants completed a questionnaire concerning smoking and alcohol drinking habits as well as anthropometrical parameters. Protein levels of RARα, β, γ, and RXRβ were determined by Western Blot in normal esophageal tissue and tissue obtained from SCC of 21 patients with newly diagnosed esophageal SCC and normal esophageal tissue of 10 controls.
Results: Protein levels of RARγ were significantly lower by ~68% in SCC compared to normal surrounding tissue in patients with SCC that smoked and/or consumed elevated amounts of alcohol. Furthermore, RARα protein levels were significantly lower (~- 45%) in SCC in comparison to normal esophageal mucosa in patients with elevated alcohol intake. When comparing protein levels of retinoic acid receptors between normal tissue of patients with SCC and controls, RARγ protein levels were found to be significantly higher (~2.7-fold) in normal esophageal tissue of SCC patients than in esophageal tissue obtained from controls. No differences were found for RARα, β, and RXRβ protein levels between normal esophageal tissue of patients and that of controls.
Conclusion: In conclusion, results of the present study suggest that alterations of retinoic acid receptors protein may contribute in the development of SCC in esophagus and that in some patients life style (e.g. smoking and alcohol consumption) may be a critical component in the alteration of retinoic acid receptor levels in esophagus.