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Hum Pathol. 1978 Sep;9(5):495-515.

Thymic hyperplasia and neoplasia: a review of current concepts.


Although the term thymic hyperplasia is used most commonly to indicate the occurrence of germinal centers in the thymus, cognizance must be taken of the fact that such centers may occur in apparently normal thymuses in both children and adults. A concept of thymic compartmentalization is proposed with origin of germinal centers in the perivascular space (extraparenchymal compartment) of the thymus. These germinal centers contain a high percentage of B lymphocytes in contrast to the true thymic parenchyma. Although the significance of germinal centers in the thymus parenchyma. Although the significance of germinal centers in the thymus in myasthenia gravis remains controversial, removal of nonneoplastic thymus in this condition is of proven therapeutic value. A variety of neoplasms originating in the thymus have previously been lumped together under the single term "thymoma." It is apparent, however, that thymoma, thymic carcinoid, various lymphomas, and germ cell tumors that arise in the thymus differ not only pathologically but also in their clinical behavior. Thymoma is regarded as an epithelial neoplasm and ultrastucturally is characterized by many desmosomes and tonofilaments. The lymphocytes do not behave in a malignant manner, and lymphomas of the thymus should be sharply separated from true thymoma. Poorly differentiated thymic carcinoma and histiocytic lymphoma may be distinguishable only by the electron microscopic demonstration of desmosomes and filaments in the thymic carcinoma. The evidence that Hodgkin's disease of the thymus ("granulomatous thymoma") is not a variant of thymoma appears overwhelming. Lymphoblastic lymphoma of the thymus is a distinctive neoplasm that is especially prevalent in teenage males. High levels of terminal transferase characterize the lymphoblasts and there is a striking tendency for leukemia to occur. Thymic carcinoid is usually nonfunctional, although one-third of the reported cases are associated with Cushing's syndrome. On light microscopy a ribbon pattern and punctate necroses are characteristic of thymic carcinoids. Electron microscopic demonstration of many dense core granules is invaluable in establishing this diagnosis. An important clue to the diagnosis of thymic seminoma (a neoplasm that shows the same radiosensitivity as its testicular counterpart) is the frequent presence of epithelioid and giant cell granulomas and germinal centers. Separation of the various thymic neoplasms described not only is justifiable on pathologic grounds but is often essential for appropriate patient investigation and treatment.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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