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Mod Pathol. 2005 Feb;18(2):197-204.

Spitz nevi and atypical Spitz nevi/tumors: a histologic and immunohistochemical analysis.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, TX 75390-9073, USA.


A subset of Spitz nevi poses substantial diagnostic difficulty, even among experts, due to its resemblance to malignant melanoma. These lesions are termed atypical Spitz nevi/tumors and there is currently a lack of objective criteria for predicting their biologic behavior. We compared the expression of Ki-67, p21, and fatty acid synthase by immunohistochemistry in 10 atypical Spitz nevi, 28 typical Spitz nevi, 19 compound melanocytic nevi and 18 invasive malignant melanomas. There was a progressive increase in fatty acid synthase cytoplasmic expression with statistically significant differences observed between Spitz nevi and atypical Spitz nevi (P=0.003) and between atypical Spitz nevi and malignant melanoma (P<0.050). Ki-67 nuclear staining was lower in both typical and atypical forms of Spitz lesions than in malignant melanoma (P<0.001). The degree of P21 nuclear expression in atypical Spitz nevi was not significantly different than in Spitz nevi, but was significantly greater than expression in conventional nevi and approached significance after multiple comparisons corrections for malignant melanoma. Thus, a high level of P21 expression makes a tumor more likely to be a typical or atypical Spitz nevus than a malignant melanoma, especially when coupled with a low Ki-67 index and weak expression of fatty acid synthase. These immunohistochemical observations support the concept that atypical Spitz nevi are distinct lesions of borderline biologic behavior residing between Spitz nevi and malignant melanoma. The study also compared a large array of histologic features of 16 cases of typical Spitz nevi in children with 12 typical Spitz nevi in adults. The adult lesions were significantly more likely to be intradermal and to display dermal fibroplasia, but were histologically similar to their pediatric counterparts in all other respects.

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