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Int J Clin Exp Pathol. 2014 Jan 15;7(2):792-6. eCollection 2014.

Smoothelin and caldesmon are reliable markers for distinguishing muscularis propria from desmoplasia: a critical distinction for accurate staging colorectal adenocarcinoma.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, Houston Methodist Hospital, Weill College of Medicine, Cornell University Houston, TX.
  • 2Department of Pathology, Houston Methodist Hospital, Weill College of Medicine, Cornell University Houston, TX ; Department of Lab Medicine and Pathology, Mayo Clinic Jacksonville, FL.


An accurate distinction between deep muscularis propria invasion versus subserosal invasion by colonic adenocarcinoma is essential for the accurate staging of cancer and subsequent optimal patient management. However, problems may arise in pathologic staging when extensive desmoplasia blurs the junction between deep muscularis propria and subserosal fibroadipose tissue. To address this issue, forty-three (43) cases of colonic adenocarcinoma resections from 2007-2009 at The Methodist Hospital in Houston, TX were reviewed. These cases were selected to address possible challenges in differentiating deep muscularis propria invasion from superficial subserosal invasion based on H&E staining alone. Immunohistochemical staining using smooth muscle actin (SMA), smoothelin, and caldesmon were performed on 51 cases: 8 cases of pT1 tumors (used mainly as control); 12 pT2 tumors; and 31 pT3 tumors. All 51 (100%) had diffuse, strong (3+) immunoreactivity for caldesmon and smoothelin in the muscularis propria with a granular cytoplasmic staining pattern. However, the desmoplastic areas of these tumors, composed of spindled fibroblasts and myofibroblasts, showed negative immunostaining for caldesmon and smoothelin (0/35). SMA strongly stained the muscularis propria and weakly (1+) or moderately (2+) stained the spindled fibroblasts in the desmoplastic areas (the latter presumably because of myofibroblastic differentiation). Compared to SMA, caldesmon and smoothelin are more specific stains that allow better delineation of the muscularis propria from the desmoplastic stromal reaction which provides a critical aide for proper staging of colonic adenocarcinoma and subsequent patient care.


Colon adenocarcinoma; cancer staging; immunohistochemistry

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