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Virchows Arch. 2014 Sep;465(3):313-20. doi: 10.1007/s00428-014-1606-6. Epub 2014 Jun 13.

Thymoma with loss of keratin expression (and giant cells): a potential diagnostic pitfall.

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Institute of Pathology, Ingolstadt, Germany.


Due to its profound therapeutic consequences, the distinction between thymoma and T-lymphoblastic lymphoma in needle biopsies is one of the most challenging in mediastinal pathology. One essential diagnostic criterion favouring thymoma is the demonstration of increased numbers of keratin-positive epithelial cells by immunohistochemistry. Loss of keratin expression in neoplastic epithelial cells could lead to detrimental misdiagnoses. We here describe a series of 14 thymic epithelial tumours (11 type B2 and B3 thymomas, 3 thymic carcinomas) with loss of expression of one or more keratins. Cases were analysed for expression of various keratins and desmosomal proteins by immunohistochemistry and immunofluorescence and compared with 45 unselected type B thymomas and 24 thymic carcinomas arranged in a multitissue histological array. All 14 cases showed highly reduced expression of at least one keratin, three cases were completely negative for all keratins studied. Of the 14 cases, 13 showed strong nuclear expression of p63. Expression of desmosomal proteins was preserved, suggesting intact cell contact structures. Loss of expression of broad-spectrum-keratins and K19 was observed in 3 and 5 % of unselected thymomas and in 30 and 60 % of thymic carcinomas. A proportion of keratin-depleted thymomas contained giant cells, reminiscent of thymic nurse cells. Loss of keratin expression in type B2 and B3 thymomas is an important diagnostic pitfall in the differential diagnosis with T-lymphoblastic lymphoma and can be expected in 5 % of cases. A panel of epithelial markers including p63 is warranted to ensure correct diagnosis of keratin-negative mediastinal tumours.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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