Villin is an actin-binding protein found in a few normal adult epithelia, namely epithelial cells in the digestive and urogenital tracts. Moreover, villin production is maintained in malignant cells. We assumed that cell lysis and necrosis of solid tumors producing villin might result in villin release into blood. We analyzed the villin content of sera from 788 patients and controls using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Patients and controls were classified into healthy donors, patients with benign diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, patients with colorectal cancers, and patients with malignant nondigestive diseases. In the panel of sera analyzed, the sensitivity of the assay for colorectal cancers was 50.5%, and its overall specificity for malignant digestive tumors was 94.5%. Results were statistically analyzed comparing each group of sera with each other. We conclude that the presence of villin is indicative of a pathological state in the gastrointestinal tract (P < 0.001). Finally, we followed villin levels after tumor resections (60 patients). We found that the villin level in sera remains low in remissions but is raised in recurrences.

We suggest that the villin assay may have clinical utility as a diagnostic adjunct for adenocarcinoma of the gastrointestinal tract. It may also have some value in monitoring patients with advancing colorectal carcinomas after resection of these tumors.


This work was supported by grants from the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (No. 86-7008), by the Fondation pour la Recherche Médicale Française, by the Association pour la Recherche sur le Cancer (No. 6379), the CNRS (UA-1149), and the Ligue Nationale Française contre le Cancer.

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