Preinvasive lesions of squamous cell carcinoma are well defined morphologically and provide a model for multistage carcinogenesis. Since alterations in the p53 tumor suppressor gene occur frequently in invasive esophageal squamous cell carcinoma, we examined a set of preinvasive lesions to investigate the timing of p53 mutation. Surgically resected tissues from nine patients with esophageal squamous cell carcinoma contained precursor lesions which had not yet invaded normal tissues. Immunohistochemistry showed high levels of p53 protein in both preinvasive lesions and invasive carcinomas in six cases; sequence analysis of all invasive tumors identified p53 missense mutations in two cases. Preinvasive lesions from both tumors with mutations plus one wild-type tumor were microdissected and sequenced. In one patient there were different mutations in the invasive carcinoma (codon 282, CGGarg > TGGtrp) and a preinvasive lesion (codon 272, GTGval > T/GTGleu/val). In a second case, an invasive carcinoma had a mutation in codon 175 (CGCarg > CAChis), and adjacent preinvasive lesions contained a wild-type sequence. A carcinoma and preinvasive lesion from the third case contained high levels of protein and a wild-type DNA sequence. Therefore, p53 mutation may precede invasion in esophageal carcinogenesis, and multifocal esophageal neoplasms may arise from independent clones of transformed cells. The timing of p53 protein accumulation is favorable for an intermediate biomarker in multistage esophageal carcinogenesis.
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