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The aberrant crypt focus (ACF) appears to be an important early step in colorectal carcinogenesis. Our objectives were to determine the natural history of ACF in a surgical model.The natural history of ACF was followed by marking the lesionsin vivowith tattoos. Rats were given four weekly injections of azoxymethane (AOM; 20 mg/kg). One hundred days after the first injection of AOM, rats were anesthetized, and individual aberrant crypt focus was identified by staining with methylene blue. A 3× 3 mm area, identifying one large (4-8 crypts) ACF was marked with a tattoo dye in each colon. Control animals received saline or AOM injections and were tattooed in areas without ACF. At 200 days, colons were examined for the presence of macroscopic lesions.A total of 54 tumors were found in the study group of 38 animals, and 21 of these were in the transverse and proximal descending colon. The marked areas (all in transverse and proximal descending colon) yielded 6 tumors and 2 ACF, but in 30 instances no abnormality was noted. Probability of observing a tumor in the 3×3 mm area of the colon that was identified as containing ACFs was 17 times greater than expected from the observed tumor rate in approximately the same zone (16vs.1.7 percent; 95 confidence interval, 10 to 22 and 0.5 to 1.3 percent). Twenty control animals receiving saline had no tumors of epithelial origin. Nine control animals that were carcinogen-treated and tattooed in areas without ACF had no tumors in the marked areas.Results thus show regression of many ACF identified early in the carcinogenesis process. Results also support the hypothesis that some ACF are precursor lesions for adenomas and cancers.