Seventy-nine esophageal carcinoma patients were studied for genetic abnormalities in the p53 and Rb tumor suppressor genes. Single-strand conformation polymorphism analysis and DNA sequencing were used to detect p53 point mutations, Northern blotting was used to examine abnormal expression of p53 and Rb, and polymerase chain reaction and Southern blotting were used to analyze allelic loss. Twenty-five cases were analyzed by DNA sequencing to detect mutations in p53. Fourteen samples contained mutations within exons 5 through 9 of p53; seven had missense mutations giving rise to single amino acid substitutions. The remaining seven (50%) contained nonsense mutations leading to premature termination, five due to single base pair substitutions, and two that were the result of frameshift mutations. In other human tumors, p53 mutations are predominantly missense mutations, but our data as well as those from other groups show that nonsense mutations are common in human esophageal cancer. All but one of the constitutinally heterozygous samples containing mutations also manifested loss of the normal p53 allele; the one exception without allelic loss contained a silent mutation, which should not have had any affect on the p53 protein product. In addition, Northern blotting analysis revealed abnormalities (altered transcript size or mRNA levels) in 5 of 7 cases involving p53 and in 2 of 7 cases analyzed for Rb. Thirty-four cases were informative for allelic loss studies of both p53 and Rb; of these, 25 (74%) lost heterozygosity of p53, Rb, or both. When point mutations and mRNA expression abnormalities were also considered, 33 of 45 (73%) tumors informative for allelic loss assays of both genes as well as for mRNA or point mutation studies showed one or more abnormalities in p53 or Rb. Our results strongly suggest that a unique profile of molecular alterations involving p53 and Rb characterizes human esophageal cancer and that these specific genetic lesions are important in the development and/or progression of most human esophageal carcinomas.


Supported by Grant PDT-419 from the American Cancer Society; the Office of Research and Development (Medical Research Service), Department of Veterans Affairs; University of Maryland DRIF/GRA funds; NIH Grant CA45158 (E. H. C.); and Grant HV-0001 from the National Foundation for Cancer Research (E. H. C.).

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