The aim of endoscopic polypectomy is to prevent colorectal cancer, as it is assumed that most, if not all, large bowel cancers are derived from adenomatous polyps. While it is now recognized that colonic endocrine cells, like other mucosal epithelial cells, have an endodermal origin, they are relatively sparse components of large bowel tumors. Peptide YY (PYY) is the most abundant endocrine regulatory peptide localized to the distal bowel. Endocrine cells, like the other cells of the mucosal epithelia, are derived from a common stem cell in the base of the crypts. The presence of endocrine peptides may thus be viewed as a marker for cellular differentiation in the gut. PYY was therefore measured in colonic carcinomas and adenomatous polyps, as its absence would be evidence in favor of genetic alterations in epithelial stem cell maturation. PYY concentrations in extracts of surgically removed colonic carcinomas (n = 22) from all regions were very low compared with those of adjacent normal bowel. Similarly, PYY concentrations in extracts of polyps (n = 39) obtained during endoscopic polypectomy were also very low when compared with those of adjacent normal mucosa. These varied between 1 and 11% of the normal epithelial content, depending upon the region. Low PYY levels appeared to reflect the malignant potential of these lesions: highest in tubular polyps, lower in villous polyps, and lowest in carcinomas. The very low concentrations of PYY in adenomatous polyps, like those of colonic cancer, are consistent with epithelial dysplasia and the incomplete formation of mucosal endocrine cells. These findings support the hypothesis of an adenoma to carcinoma sequence in colonic cancer.
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