AIM: To study the differentiation of epithelial tissues within their histological context, and to identify hypothetically, on the basis of keratin pattern, the putative tissue origin of a (metastatic) carcinoma. METHODS: Using well characterised monoclonal antibodies against individual keratins 7, 8, 18, and 19, which are predominantly found in columnar epithelia, and keratins 4, 10, 13, and 14, predominantly expressed in (non)-keratinising squamous epithelia, the keratin patterns for a series of 45 squamous cell carcinomas and 44 adenocarcinomas originating from various epithelial tissues were characterised. RESULTS: The predominant keratins in all adenocarcinomas proved to be 8, 18, and 19. In addition, these keratins were also abundantly present in squamous cell carcinomas of the lung, cervix, and rectum and, to a lesser extent, of the larynx, oesophagus, and tongue, but not in those of the vulva and skin. Keratins 4, 10, 13, and 14 were present in almost all squamous cell carcinomas, but also focally in some of the adenocarcinomas studied. CONCLUSIONS: There is a limited differential expression of distinctive keratin filaments between squamous cell carcinomas and adenocarcinomas. Apparently, squamous cell carcinomas that originate from columnar epithelium by squamous metaplasia gain the keratins of squamous cells but retain the keratins of columnar epithelial cells. However, the simultaneous expression of two of three squamous keratins (4, 10, and 13) identifies a squamous cell carcinoma, and thus might be useful in solving differential diagnostic problems.
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