Open Access Research article

Expression of chemokine receptor CXCR4 in esophageal squamous cell and adenocarcinoma

Ines Gockel1*, Carl C Schimanski2, Christian Heinrich1, T Wehler2, K Frerichs1, Daniel Drescher1, Christian von Langsdorff1, Mario Domeyer1, Stefan Biesterfeld3, Peter R Galle2, Theodor Junginger1 and Markus Moehler2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of General and Abdominal Surgery, Johannes Gutenberg-University, Mainz, Germany

2 Department of Internal Medicine, Johannes Gutenberg-University, Mainz, Germany

3 Institute of Pathology, Johannes Gutenberg-University, Mainz, Germany

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BMC Cancer 2006, 6:290  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-6-290

Published: 18 December 2006



Prognosis of esophageal cancer is poor despite curative surgery. The chemokine receptor CXCR4 has been proposed to distinctly contribute to tumor growth, dissemination and local immune escape in a limited number of malignancies. The aim of our study was to evaluate the role of CXCR4 in tumor spread of esophageal cancer with a differentiated view of the two predominant histologic types – squamous cell and adenocarcinoma.


Esophageal cancer tissue samples were obtained from 102 consecutive patients undergoing esophageal resection for cancer with curative intent. The LSAB+ System was used to detect the protein CXCR4. Tumor samples were classified into two groups based on the homogeneous staining intensity. A cut-off between CXCR4w (= weak expression) and CXCR4s (= strong expression) was set at 1.5 (grouped 0 – 1.5 versus 2.0 – 3). Long-term survival rates were calculated using life tables and the Kaplan-Meier method. Using the Cox's proportional hazards analysis, a model of survival prediction was established.


The overall expression rate for CXCR4 in esophageal squamous cell carcinoma was 94.1%. Subdividing these samples, CXCR4w was found in 54.9% and CXCR4s in 45.1%. In adenocarcinoma, an overall expression rate of 89.1% was detected with a weak intensitiy in 71.7% compared to strong staining in 29.3% (p = 0.066 squamous cell versus adenocarcinoma). The Cox's proportional hazards analysis identified the pM-category with a hazard ratio (HR) of 1.860 (95% CI: 1.014–3.414) (p = 0.045), the histologic tumor type (HR: 0.334; 95% CI: 0.180–0.618) (p = 0.0001) and the operative approach (transthoracic > transhiatal esophageal resection) (HR: 0.546; 95% CI: 0.324–0.920) (p = 0.023) as independent factors with a possible influence on the long-term prognosis in patients with esophageal carcinoma, whereas CXCR4 expression was statistically not significant (>0.05).


Expression of the chemokine receptor CXCR4 in esophageal cancer is of major relevance in both histologic entities – squamous cell and adenocarcinoma. Though with lack of statistical significance, strong CXCR4 expression revealed a poorer long-term prognosis following curative esophagectomy in both histologic subtypes. Thus, the exact biological functions of CXCR4 in terms of tumor dissemination of esophageal cancer is yet undetermined. Inhibition of esophageal cancer progression by CXCR4 antagonists might be a promising therapeutic option in the future.