hERG1 channels in human esophagus: Evidence for their aberrant expression in the malignant progression of Barrett's esophagus


  • Paolo Bechi and Annarosa Arcangeli contributed equally to this work.


Ion channels regulate a broad range of cellular activities. Alteration in ion channel function has been reported in different human pathologies, such as cardiac, neuromuscular, autoimmune diseases, and cancer. We investigated the expression of hERG1 K+ channels in the human upper gastrointestinal tract, focusing our attention on the lower esophagus. In particular, we analyzed by both Reverse transcription and polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and immunohistochemistry (IHC) endoscopic samples obtained from normal subjects, from patients suffering from gastroesophageal reflux, associated or not with esophagitis, and from patients affected by Barrett's esophagus (BE), that is, intestinal metaplasia. None of the normal samples, nor those from patients with gastro-esophageal reflux symptoms and reflux esophagitis expressed the hERG1 protein. On the other hand, 69% of patients with BE expressed hERG1. Since BE is a preneoplastic lesion, dysplasias (Ds) and adenocarcinomas (ADKs) arising on a previously diagnosed BE were also analyzed, and all the samples showed a high expression of the hERG1 protein. The surveillance of patients with BE showed that 89% of those who later developed ADKs displayed hERG1 expression. Data here reported, support the hypothesis that hERG1 expression marks an early step of the progression of normality to cancer in the human esophagus through a metaplastic and dysplastic stage. J. Cell. Physiol. 209: 398–404, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.