Detection of genetic alterations in cfDNA as a possible strategy to monitor the neoplastic progression of Barrett's esophagus

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Barrett's esophagus (BE) is associated with an increased risk of developing esophageal adenocarcinoma. Despite the low absolute risk of neoplastic progression of BE, probability increases with the diagnosis of dysplasia. For this reason, BE patients undergo an endoscopy-based surveillance that is, however, burdensome for patients, subject to inter-observer subjectivity, and expensive for national health systems. Thus, less invasive and low-cost diagnostic tools are needed. This study is aimed at finding a simple and reliable method to detect in the circulating cell-free DNA (cfDNA) of BE patients evidence of the molecular instability that accompanies BE carcinogenesis. We chose the loss of heterozygosity analysis because chromosomal region gains or losses have been described in BE and esophageal adenocarcinoma. Furthermore, this analysis does not require an a priori knowledge of tumor specific mutations and/or rearrangements. Previous data showed a good consistency between tissue and cfDNA alterations. Here, we report that, in the cfDNA of dysplastic BE patients, the frequency of genetic alterations is statistically higher than that of metaplastic BE patients (P= 0.005). Interestingly, after endoscopic treatment, the alteration frequency dropped, suggesting that cfDNA can also be used to monitor curative effects. Among the used markers, those that map nearbyTP53gene were the most discriminant between metaplastic and dysplastic BE. Furthermore, longitudinal follow-up cases showed that genetic alterations can be found in cfDNA before the appearance of a detectable lesion. Altogether, our data suggest that the use of liquid biopsy could become a minimally invasive diagnostic tool to implement BE patient monitoring.

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