OPINION: Barrett oesophagus: lessons on its origins from the lesion itself

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Barrett oesophagus develops when the lower oesophageal squamous epithelium is replaced with columnar epithelium, which shows both intestinal and gastric differentiation. No consensus has been reached on the origin of Barrett oesophagus. Theories include a direct origin from the oesophageal-stratified squamous epithelium, or by proximal migration of the gastric cardiac epithelium with subsequent intestinalization. Variations of this theory suggest the origin is a distinctive cell at the squamocolumnar junction, the oesophageal gland ducts, or circulating bone-marrow-derived cells. Much of the supporting evidence comes from experimental models and not from studies of Barrett mucosa. In this Perspectives article, we look at the Barrett lesion itself: at its phenotype, its complexity, its clonal architecture and its stem cell organization. We conclude that Barrett glands are unique structures, but share many similarities with gastric glands undergoing the process of intestinal metaplasia. We conclude that current evidence most strongly supports an origin from stem cells in the cardia.

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