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Am J Surg Pathol. 1997 Feb;21(2):201-5.

Cathepsin D in intestinal ganglion cells. A potential aid to diagnosis in suspected Hirschsprung's disease.

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Department of Pathology, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520-8023, USA.


There is still a need for a better method of detecting immature ganglion cells in paraffin sections of colorectal luminal biopsies in cases suspected of Hirschsprung's disease. The lysosomal aspartic proteinase cathepsin D has been immunolocalized to various cell types, including ganglion cells. We investigated its expression in intestinal ganglion cells to determine whether it could be used as an aid in the detection of immature ganglion cells in rectal biopsies from children suspected of having Hirschsprung's disease. Routinely processed tissues of eight adult intestines resected for gunshot wounds and six ganglioneuromas (for mature ganglion cells), of six colons resected for neonatal necrotizing enterocolitis (for immature ganglion cells), and of 11 cases of suspected and three cases of known Hirschsprung's disease were immunostained with a polyclonal antibody to cathepsin D using the avidin-biotin-peroxidase method. In all cases, all ganglion cell bodies present showed intense granular cytoplasmic reactivity for cathepsin D. The granules crowded the cytoplasm and formed a collarette around the nucleus. In the submucosa, the only other immunoreactive cells were histiocytes, but they could be distinguished from ganglion cells by their characteristic nuclear features and their occurrence singly and unassociated with nerves. The three resection specimens with Hirschsprung's disease showed a clear transition between the ganglionic and the aganglionic segments. We conclude that cathepsin D is a promising marker of immature ganglion cells in cases suspected of Hirschsprung's disease.

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