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Am J Pathol. Feb 1987; 126(2): 243–257.
PMCID: PMC1899573

Synaptophysin expression in neuroendocrine neoplasms as determined by immunocytochemistry.


Synaptophysin is an integral membrane glycoprotein originally isolated from presynaptic vesicles of bovine neurons. The authors have studied a wide spectrum of neuroendocrine (NE) neoplasms by immunofluorescence microscopy on cryostat sections of freshly frozen tissues using a monoclonal antibody to this protein (SY 38). Without exception, they found the identical--or a very similar--protein expressed in all neuroblastomas, ganglioneuroblastomas, ganglioneuromas, pheochromocytomas, and paragangliomas studied. In these "neural" type NE neoplasms, synaptophysin was coexpressed with neurofilament proteins. Synaptophysin was also demonstrated in NE neoplasms of "epithelial" type in which it was predominantly coexpressed with cytokeratins and desmoplakin. It was invariably found in all variants of islet cell neoplasms and in all medullary thyroid carcinomas. Synaptophysin was also demonstrated in several adenomas of the hypophysis and parathyroids, in the majority of carcinoids of the bronchopulmonary and gastrointestinal tracts, and in many, though not all, NE carcinomas of the same sites, and of the skin. Conversely, SY 38 did not immunostain any of a large number of benign and malignant non-NE epithelial neoplasms; nor was any immunostaining obtained in a group of mesenchymal tumors. It is remarkable that SY 38 did not immunostain a number of malignant melanomas, including several that were immunostained for neuron-specific enolase (NSE) and several neuropeptides. Parallel studies conducted on conventionally fixed, paraffin-embedded tissue sections immunostained by the use of the avidin-biotin complex technique yielded very similar results. The findings indicate that synaptophysin is expressed in the whole range of NE neoplasms without detectable relation to the expression of other NE markers such as NSE, serotonin, and neuropeptides. Nor could the expression of synaptophysin by these tumors be correlated with their epithelial and/or neural cytoskeletal characteristics, their clinical aggressiveness, or the presence or absence of endocrinologic abnormalities. While the consistent expression of synaptophysin by the "neural" type of NE neoplasms would seem predictable its presence in diverse benign and malignant NE tumors of "epithelial" type is remarkable. It is concluded that synaptophysin is a significant as well as novel NE marker, and the use of antibody SY 38 as a broad range marker for the study and diagnosis of NE neoplasms is proposed.

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