AIMS: To characterise further the proliferative compartment of the normal cervix and to document its alteration, if any, in the various grades of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN), particularly changes to the basal epithelial layer; to hypothesise as to the diagnostic and biological significance of any observed differences. METHOD: Proliferative compartments from 86 cervical biopsy specimens (10 normal, 11 with koilocytic change only, 12 CIN I, nine CIN II, and 44 CIN III) were determined using microwave antigen retrieval and a standard three-step Streptavidin biotin peroxidase immunocytochemical technique incorporating the MIB-1 monoclonal antibody (directed against the Ki-67 antigen). Immunoreactivity was assessed as occupying either the lower one third, lower two thirds or all three thirds of the squamous epithelium. Basal cell positivity was also quantitated. RESULTS: Specimens without CIN showed a thin suprabasal proliferative compartment two to four cells thick. True basal positivity was infrequent. With increasing grade of CIN, the growth compartment stretched evermore superficially so that in lesions of CIN III almost the full thickness of epithelium was cycling. In all grades of CIN, basal cell proliferation was significantly increased. CONCLUSIONS: In normal cervix, the parabasal layers represent the main proliferative pool with the basal layer providing a reserve. When CIN supervenes, this proliferative compartment expands commensurate with the grade of dysplasia and as basal turnover is increased specifically the intimate relation between epithelium and basement membrane might be disturbed, facilitating invasion. The diagnostic utility of these changes in growth compartments is limited.
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