An in vitro study of proliferative activity as shown by immunohistochemical detection of the uptake of bromodeoxyuridine was run on rectal biopsies from 400 patients with nonfamilial large bowel neoplasia: 200 adenoma; 150 adenocarcinoma; 50 adenoma plus adenocarcinoma. The controls were 400 subjects with negative personal and family histories of colorectal neoplasia. The number and height distribution of bromodeoxyuridine positive cells were determined by dividing the crypt into five longitudinal compartments. The total labeling index and the labeling index of each compartment were higher in all three groups compared with the controls. In subjects with adenoma, total labeling index and labeling index values were correlated with tumor size and decreased in function of the duration of the polyp-free colon state. The major zone of DNA synthesis had shifted to the intermediate and surface crypt compartments in all three groups. This stage II abnormality was more marked in adenoma patients with a high degree of dysplasia and in those with adenoma plus adenocarcinoma. Hyperproliferation and the proliferative compartment shift are cytokinetic abnormalities that coexist in the flat rectal mucosa of patients with colorectal neoplasia. Nonetheless, they are independent, controlled by different factors, and are expressions of different biological aspects of large bowel carcinogenesis.

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