(HealthDay News) – A series of microRNAs has been identified that differentiate precancerous Barrett’s esophagus from esophageal adenocarcinoma and may serve as biomarkers to help physicians identify patients who are at a higher risk of progression, according to research published in the March issue of Cancer Prevention Research.

Xifeng Wu, MD, of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and colleagues performed genome-wide profiling of 754 human microRNAs in 35 normal epithelium, 34 Barrett’s esophagus, and 36 esophageal adenocarcinoma histology samples.

Overall, the researchers found expression of most microRNAs was similar between samples obtained from patients with Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal adenocarcinoma. However, a few microRNAs were identified that were differentially expressed that may be useful as biomarkers for early diagnosis of progression. Specifically, the microRNA miR-375 was downregulated, and 5 microRNAs of the miR-17-92 and homologue family were upregulated and may serve to differentiate the two conditions.

“Defining the protein-coding genes targeted by the differentially expressed microRNAs we identified may provide significant biological insights into the development of esophageal adenocarcinoma,” the authors write. “Moreover, these genes may themselves become promising biomarkers to predict Barrett’s esophagus progression as well as potential preventive and therapeutic targets.”

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