Deregulated inhibition of apoptosis (programmed cell death) may facilitate the insurgence of neoplasia, but whether it also influences the outcome of common cancers has remained controversial. In this study, we investigated the expression of a novel inhibitor of apoptosis, survivin, in colorectal cancer and its relationship with tumor cell apoptosis and overall prognosis. By immunohistochemistry, survivin was expressed in 91 of 171 (53.2%) cases of colorectal carcinomas of histological stages 0 to IV. In contrast, normal colon epithelium did not express survivin. Although survivin expression did not correlate with p53 abnormalities (46.5% versus 58.0%; P = 0.18), survivin-positive cases were strongly associated with bcl-2 expression (72.5% versus 27.4%; P < 0.0001) and reduced apoptotic index (0.76% ± 0.39% versus 1.17% ± 0.62%; P < 0.0001). Expression of survivin alone in bcl-2-negative (disordant) cases also resulted in reduced apoptotic index (0.82% ± 0.57% versus 1.16% ± 0.66%; P = 0.0046). When analyzed for prognostic significance, patients with low apoptotic index (<0.97%) had worse survival rates than the group with high apoptosis (P < 0.001), and a multivariate Cox proportional hazard model identified reduced apoptosis as an independent predictive factor for overall survival (P < 0.0001). These data demonstrate that apoptosis inhibition by survivin, alone or in cooperation with bcl-2, is an important predictive/prognostic parameter of poor outcome in colorectal carcinoma and identify survivin as a new diagnostic/therapeutic target in cancer.

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