We investigated whether the activity of ornithine decarboxylase might serve as a diagnostic test for detecting the presence of the genotype for familial polyposis. This rate-limiting enzyme in the polyamine biosynthetic pathway is essential for intestinal mucosal proliferation. In colonic mucosa from 16 normal controls, ornithine decarboxylase activity was less than 2.5 nmol per milligram per hour. In contrast, it was higher than 2.5 nmol per milligram per hour in the normal-appearing areas of colonic mucosa from 11 of 13 patients with familial polyposis and in all polyps biopsied from these same subjects (P<0.05 for specimens from both sites, as compared with controls). Mucosa from dysplastic polyps showed higher mean ornithine decarboxylase activity than mucosa from polyps that were not dysplastic (P<0.05). In colonic mucosa from clinically unaffected, first-degree relatives of patients with familial polyposis, there was a bimodal distribution of ornithine decarboxylase activity, with one peak at the mean for normal controls and the other near the mean for normal-appearing mucosa from affected patients. Our study suggests that ornithine decarboxylase activity in colonie mucosa may reflect the abnormal proliferative state in familial polyposis and identify clinically normal family members who carry the genotype. (N Engl J Med 1984;311:80–3.).
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