Ependymomas with neuronal differentiation: a morphologic and immunohistochemical spectrum

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The category of mixed glioneuronal tumors of the CNS is rapidly losing its definition as encompassing tumors composed of histologically distinct neuron variants and glia. We encountered five ependymomas with neuronal differentiation seen in two by histology, in two by immunohistochemistry alone, and in one by electron microscopy. Antibodies against GFAP, S-100 protein, neurofilament protein, chromogranin, synaptophysin, Neu-N, and EMA were applied. Ultrastructural studies were also performed. In addition, 33 randomly selected ependymomas of various histologic types were screened for these same antigens. Cases 1 and 2 were anaplastic and showed clearly defined neuropil islands or pale islands as in nodular desmoplastic medulloblastoma, respectively. The tumors affected a 16-year-old male and a 5-year-old female and involved the right frontoparietal lobe and fourth ventricle, respectively. The islands were positive for synaptophysin and Neu-N (cases 1 and 2), and chromogranin (case 1). Cases 3-5, as well as 7 of the 33 screened ependymomas, showed a suggestion of neuronal differentiation by immunohistochemistry alone, including immunoreactivity for Neu-N (n = 8), synaptophysin (n = 4), neurofilament protein (n = 4), and chromogranin (n = 2). Five tumors each were WHO grade II and III. Electron microscopy performed on the two cases with neuronal islands demonstrated microtubule bundles and dense core granules (case 1) and poorly differentiated cells with high nuclear/cytoplasmic ratios, with intermediate filament accumulation and rare cilia (case 2). Cases identified by immunohistochemistry or electron microscopy demonstrated dense core granules (n = 5) and aligned microtubules (n = 3). Neuronal differentiation occurs in ependymomas but is less frequently definitive (histologic, ultrastructural) than merely a limited immunohistochemical finding. The clinical significance of these observations is unknown but deserves further exploration.

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