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Metaplasia means the conversion, in postnatal life, of one cell type to another. Understanding the steps leading to metaplasia is important for two reasons. Firstly, it tells us something about the normal developmental biology of the tissues that interconvert. Secondly, metaplasia predisposes to certain forms of neoplasia. So understanding the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying metaplasia will provide insights into clinical diagnosis and potential therapies. One of the best-described examples of metaplasia is Barrett's metaplasia or the appearance of intestinal-like columnar tissue in the oesophagus. Barrett's metaplasia develops as a result of gastro-oesophageal reflux and is considered the precursor lesion for oesophageal adenocarcinoma. While we know quite a bit about the molecular events associated with the development of oesophageal adenocarcinoma, our understanding of the initial events leading to Barrett's metaplasia is lacking. In the present review we will focus on examples of metaplasia that lead to neoplasia and discuss some of the underlying molecular and cellular mechanisms. (c) 2007 Elsevier B.V All rights reserved.