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Am J Pathol. Aug 1992; 141(2): 363–375.
PMCID: PMC1886598

Expression of developmentally defined retinal phenotypes in the histogenesis of retinoblastoma.


Retinoblastoma, the most common intraocular tumor of childhood, is a malignant neoplasm that arises during retinal development. The embryonal cell target for neoplastic transformation is not yet clearly defined. To better understand the histogenetic potential of this tumor, the expression of photoreceptor and glial cell-associated proteins were examined in 22 primary retinoblastomas. Interphotoreceptor retinol-binding protein (IRBP), cone and rod opsins were selected as the photoreceptor specific proteins due to their different temporal patterns of expression during normal retinal development. Neoplastic Müller cell differentiation, and non-neoplastic reactive astrocytes were identified using cellular retinaldehyde binding-protein (CRAlBP), and glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), respectively. Photoreceptor proteins were present in 16 cases and showed different cellular patterns of expression. IRBP and cone opsin were usually abundant. Although rod opsin was clearly identified in eight tumors, its expression was more restricted than either IRBP or cone opsin. This differential pattern of expression, opposite to the normal pattern of photoreceptor gene expression in the adult retina, corresponded to a marked decrease in mRNA for rod opsin. Cone opsin and IRBP colocalized in fleurettes demonstrating that neoplastic human cone cells are capable of IRBP synthesis. Müller cell differentiation was present in 12 of the 16 cases in which photoreceptor proteins were detected. In contrast, GFAP was only present in reactive, stromal astrocytes associated with blood vessels. Our data suggest that the retinoblastoma has the histogenetic potential of the immature neural retinal epithelium which can give rise to both photoreceptor and Müller cell lineages. The differential expression of cone and rod phenotypes in retinoblastoma is consistent with the "default" mechanism of cone cell differentiation.

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