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Defensin alpha 6 (DEFA 6) overexpression threshold of over 60 fold can distinguish between adenoma and fully blown colon carcinoma in individual patients

Mariya Y Radeva1*, Franziska Jahns2, Anne Wilhelm2, Michael Glei2, Utz Settmacher3, Karl Otto Greulich1 and Henning Mothes3

Author Affiliations

1 Leibniz Institute for Age Research - Fritz Lipmann Institute, Beutenbergstr. 11, 07745 Jena, Germany

2 Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Department of Nutritional Toxicology, Dornburger Str. 24, 07743 Jena, Germany

3 University Hospital Jena, Department of General, Visceral and Vascular Surgery, Erlanger Allee 101, 07747 Jena, Germany

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BMC Cancer 2010, 10:588  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-10-588

Published: 27 October 2010



It is known that alpha-defensin expression is enhanced in colon cancer. However, the expression of human alpha defensin 6 (DEFA 6) in earlier stages, such as adenoma, has so far not yet been studied in a patient resolved manner.


By using quantitative Real Time-PCR, the gene expression pattern of DEFA 1-3 and DEFA 6 was analyzed in tissue of different stages of carcinogenesis, derived from colorectal cancer patients. In addition to paired normal and tumor tissue, matched normal near tumor and adenoma tissue samples were examined.


The median gene expression of human defensin alpha 6 (DEFA 6) has been found to be moderately increased (~ 5 fold) in tumor samples derived from individuals with colorectal cancer (CRC) when compared to their normal counterparts. However, when the data were analyzed in a patient-wise manner, a large expression variation among individual patients is found, making the use of DEFA 6 for individual diagnosis of fully blown colon carcinoma difficult. Surprisingly, in adenoma the gene expression analysis revealed a 100 fold increased median expression of DEFA 6 relative to normal colon tissue. 13/18 samples had an individual overexpression of more than 60 fold in adenoma but only 3/17 in carcinoma. In each of the individual patients, at least either the adenoma or the carcinoma showed strong DEFA 6 overexpression.


We suggest that the expression of DEFA 6 preferably can be used as a potential diagnostic marker for adenoma and not as a marker for fully blown carcinoma. This is supported by the fact that DEFA 6 is a downstream target of the Wnt pathway, which is mutational active during the earliest stage of cancer development.