AIM: To determine by morphometry if pleural biopsies with the histopathological diagnosis of "non-specific pleuritis", malignant, and tuberculous disease could be distinguished morphologically from those with truly non-specific disease. METHODS: Each pleural biopsy was reviewed taking into account three compartments of reference: the visceral/parietal mesothelial compartment, the submesothelial screen compartment, and the submesothelial adipose tissue compartment. Normal connective tissue, granulation tissue, fibrocellular proliferation, fibrin, polymorphonuclear cells, mononuclear cells, and mesothelial cells were measured using conventional point counting procedures in terms of the fractional area occupied by each parameter within each compartment of reference. Ranking was carried out on 164 patients, based on their diagnosis: chronic non-specific disease (n = 57), tuberculosis (n = 27), malignant disease (n = 58), and conditions associated with transudative effusions (n = 22). RESULTS: Stepwise discriminant analysis of the resulting data showed that biopsies from patients with tuberculosis, malignant disease, and chronic non-specific disease could be distinguished between themselves and normal cases. Statistical differences among the four groups were observed for eight morphometric parameters related to components of inflammation and extension throughout the three pleural anatomical compartments. A robust discriminant function permitted an adequate classification of the three groups of disease in 88.41% of the cases. Pleural biopsies with fibrin incorporated within granulation tissue on the submesothelial screen compartment showed 100% specificity for patients with tuberculosis, while mononuclear cells in a band-like infiltrate on the submesothelial adipose tissue compartment showed 93.1% specificity for patients with malignant disease. The truly non-specific pleuritis was characterised by deposits of fibrin in the subpleural compartment and discrete signs of chronic inflammation and reparatory fibrosis on the submesothelial screen. CONCLUSIONS: Morphometric analysis of pleural biopsies may be a useful supplementary histological procedure to support the diagnosis of pleural tuberculosis and malignant disease.
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