An increased colonic epithelial proliferation rate and an increase of the cryptal proliferative zone are probable markers of increased susceptibility to colonic cancer. In this study an immunohistochemical method using 5-bromo-deoxyuridine (BrdUrd) to measure the proliferation rate of colonic mucosa in vitro was used. Fresh endoscopic colonic biopsy specimens were incubated with BrdUrd and then processed for immunohistochemistry using a monoclonal antibody. Essential procedures with respect to the equal distribution of nuclei stained with BrdUrd in the biopsy specimens proved to be the cutting of the specimens before incubation and the use of a microwave oven at the beginning of incubation. The use of the procedure of the running average showed that 12 length cut crypts are sufficient to determine reliably the proliferation rate, expressed as the labelling index (LI). This was determined in the biopsy specimens of 10 subjects without organic colonic disease, eight patients with adenomatous colonic polyps, and in six patients with (recent) colonic carcinoma. Mean LI in the controls was significantly lower than in patients with colonic polyps and in those with colon cancer. It is concluded that this method is promising for screening persons at risk for colon cancer and will be of great potential in performing dietary intervention studies in these subjects.
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