Aberrant crypts were identified for the first time in whole-mount preparations of normal-appearing human colonic mucosa after staining with methylene blue. The foci of aberrant crypts varied from single altered glands to plaques of greater than 30 crypts. The mean proportion of colonic mucosa altered and the number of foci with aberrant crypts per cm2 of colonic mucosa were (a) higher in patients with colon cancer than in patients without colon cancer or predisposing conditions and (b) highest in our single case of Gardner's syndrome. Aberrant crypts are postulated to be the earliest identifiable potential precursors of colon cancer. Analysis of aberrant crypts may facilitate the study of the early pathological and molecular changes that precede colon cancer.

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This work was supported by Grants R01 CA48032, R01 CA38727, and P30 CA43703 from the National Cancer Institute and Grant 89B48 from the American Institute for Cancer Research.

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