The Nature of the Myenteric Infiltrate in Achalasia: An Immunohistochemical Analysis

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Achalasia is an esophageal motor disorder characterized by abnormal relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter and absence of progressive peristalsis in the esophageal body. Previous studies evaluating esophagomyotomy and esophageal resection specimens have shown the presence of myenteric inflammation to be a consistent and early pathologic change in patients with achalasia. Thus, the goal of this study was to determine the immunohistochemical characteristics of the inflammatory infiltrate within the myenteric plexus in patients with clinically early and end-stage achalasia. Using formalin-fixed tissue, we analyzed the immunohistochemical features of the myenteric lymphocytes using antibodies that recognize B cells (CD20), T cells (CD3), T cell subsets (CD8), and the activation state of T cell subpopulations (TIA-1 and granzyme B) in nine patients with clinically early achalasia who underwent esophagomyotomy and 13 patients with clinically end-stage achalasia who underwent esophageal resection. The myenteric infiltrate in all nine esophagomyotomy specimens was composed predominantly of T cells (CD3-positive), the majority of which also stained for CD8. In five of nine specimens, the majority of CD8-positive cells stained for TIA-1. In the esophageal resection specimens, the myenteric infiltrate was composed predominantly of CD3-positive T cells in seven of 13 cases. In three cases, there was a predominance of CD20-positive B cells, and in the remaining three cases there were relatively equal numbers of T and B cells. In eight of 13 cases, the majority of T cells stained for CD8. TIA-1 immunoreactivity was found in the majority of CD8-positive cells in nine of 13 cases. In all esophagomyotomy and esophageal resection specimens studied, rare granzyme B-positive cells were detected. In conclusion, the majority of myenteric inflammatory cells in patients with achalasia are CD3-positive T cells, most of which are also CD8-positive, although the relative percentage of such cells appears to decrease with disease progression. Furthermore, many of the CD3-positive/CD8-positive myenteric lymphocytes also express TIA-1, suggesting they are resting or activated cytotoxic T cells. The immunohistochemical demonstration of granzyme B in a subpopulation of these cells supports the contention that achalasia is an immune-mediated disease, although the inciting antigen remains an enigma.

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