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Cernat, Laura; Blaj, Cristina; Jackstadt, Rene; Brandl, Lydia; Engel, Jutta; Hermeking, Heiko; Jung, Andreas; Kirchner, Thomas and Horst, David (2014): Colorectal Cancers Mimic Structural Organization of Normal Colonic Crypts.
In: PLOS ONE 9(8), e104284 [PDF, 24MB]

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Colonic crypts are stereotypical structures with distinct stem cell, proliferating, and differentiating compartments. Colorectal cancers derive from colonic crypt epithelia but, in contrast, form morphologically disarrayed glands. In this study, we investigated to which extent colorectal cancers phenocopy colonic crypt architecture and thus preserve structural organization of the normal intestinal epithelium. A subset of colon cancers showed crypt-like compartments with high WNT activity and nuclear beta-Catenin at the leading tumor edge, adjacent proliferation, and enhanced Cytokeratin 20 expression in most differentiated tumor epithelia of the tumor center. This architecture strongly depended on growth conditions, and was fully reproducible in mouse xenografts of cultured and primary colon cancer cells. Full crypt-like organization was associated with low tumor grade and was an independent prognostic marker of better survival in a collection of 221 colorectal cancers. Our findings suggest that full activation of preserved intestinal morphogenetic programs in colon cancer requires in vivo growth environments. Furthermore, crypt-like architecture was linked with less aggressive tumor biology, and may be useful to improve current colon cancer grading schemes.

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