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Comparison of immunohistochemical markers in the differential diagnosis of adrenocortical tumors: immunohistochemical analysis of adrenocortical tumors.

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Department of Pathology, West China Hospital, Sichuan University, Chengdu 610041, People's Republic of China.


Most adrenocortical tumors (ACTs) can be diagnosed directly by a combination of morphologic features and clinical findings. However, sometimes it may be difficult to distinguish ACTs from other neoplasms such as pheochromocytomas and some metastatic tumors, particularly for small biopsy specimens because they may be morphologically similar. Expression of calretinin has recently been suggested as a valuable immunomarker for the differential diagnosis between ACTs and other tumors; however, its diagnostic value is still under debate. To determine the diagnostic value of calretinin in Chinese patients with adrenocortical and non-ACTs, we employed both polyclonal and monoclonal anticalretinin to characterize the expression of calretinin in adrenal tissues and compared its expression with that of inhibin alpha, Melan-A, cytokeratin, or CD99 by immunohistochemistry in tissue microarrays and standard tissue sections of 414 specimens. Our results revealed that calretinin was expressed by adrenocortical cells, but not by the other cells tested and the percentage of calretinin-positive ACTs reached 99% when stained with polyclonal antibodies, which was higher than that with monoclonal anticalretinin (91.3%), anti-Melan-A (90.3%), antiinhibin alpha (81.6%). In addition, our results also revealed that ACTs were stained by cytokeratin (AE1/AE3) with variable degrees (58.7%). Furthermore, unlike anti-Melan-A that stained all metastatic malignant melanoma, anticalretinin did not recognize other tested tumors. Therefore, immunohistologic staining with polyclonal anticalretinin is more sensitive than other antibodies tested for the diagnosis of ACTs. However, monoclonal anticalretinin appeared to be more specific. Importantly, our data suggested that the fried-egg-like staining pattern, but not the mere cytoplasmic staining, was characteristic of anticalretinin staining in adrenocortical tissues. Notably, a few anticalretinin negative-ACTs were stained by other immunomarkers that we tested. Thus, the combinational characterization of calretinin (either by polyclonal or monoclonal antibody), inhibin alpha, and Melan-A expression is of great significance in the differential diagnosis of ACTs.

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