Background and Aims: Cyclooxygenase (COX) enzymes catalyze the conversion of arachidonic acid to prostaglandins. Evidence suggests that nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs reduce the risk of colorectal cancer (CRC) and that this effect is mediated through COX inhibition. We analyzed and compared expression of the inducible COX-2 isoform in colorectal neoplasms from patients with hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), and sporadic CRC. Given that COX-2 is induced by transforming growth factor (TGF)-β and that TGF-β type II receptor (RII) mutations are found in HNPCCs, we determined the relationship between RII status and COX-2 expression. Methods: COX-2 protein expression was determined in colorectal epithelia using immunohistochemistry and Western blotting. Patients with HNPCC had known mutations in hMLH1 or hMSH2 genes and/or met the Amsterdam criteria. In CRCs from HNPCC cases, mutations were sought in the coding region of the RII gene using the polymerase chain reaction. Results: COX-2 was detected in adenomas from 2 of 3 HNPCC, 6 of 7 FAP, and 5 of 8 sporadic cases. In CRCs, COX-2 staining was found in 16 of 24 (67%) HNPCC vs. 24 of 26 (92%) sporadic cases (P = 0.035) and in 2 of 2 FAP cases. Staining intensity was reduced in HNPCCs compared with sporadic CRCs (P = 0.035). Staining localized to the cytoplasm' of neoplastic cells; normal epithelial cells were negative for COX-2. Overexpression of COX-2 in CRCs relative to normal mucosa was confirmed by Western blotting. TGF-β RII mutations were detected in 12 of 14 HNPCCs examined, including 3 of 4 COX-2-negative and 9 of 10 COX-2-positive cancers. Conclusions: The frequency and intensity of COX-2 expression was significantly reduced in HNPCCs relative to sporadic CRCs, and was not a consequence of RII mutations. Given that many HNPCCs express COX-2, inhibition of this enzyme may be an important strategy to prevent CRC in these patients.
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