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Numerous IgG4-positive plasma cells are ubiquitous in diverse localised non-specific chronic inflammatory conditions and need to be distinguished from IgG4-related systemic disorders
  1. Johanna D Strehl,
  2. Arndt Hartmann,
  3. Abbas Agaimy
  1. Institute of Pathology, University of Erlangen, Erlangen, Germany
  1. Correspondence to Professor Abbas Agaimy, Pathologisches Institut, Krankenhausstrasse 12, 91054 Erlangen, Germany; abbas.agaimy{at}


Background IgG4-related systemic fibrosclerosis is a recently defined disorder characterised by a diffuse or tumefactive inflammatory reaction rich in IgG4-positive plasma cells associated with sclerosis and obliterative phlebitis. Although characteristic histopathological features are essential for the diagnosis of these disorders, to date there exists no consensus regarding the cut-off values used to define a ‘significant IgG4-positive plasma cell count,’ and data regarding the distribution of IgG4-positive plasma cells under common (non-specific) inflammatory conditions are lacking.

Methods The authors analysed 121 randomly selected histopathological specimens containing prominent lymphoplasmacytic infiltrates (11 obstructive sialadenitis, 27 inflammatory lesions of the oral cavity, 24 inflammatory gastrointestinal lesions, 15 rheumatoid synovitis, 15 non-specific synovitis, eight non-specific dermatitis and 21 primary carcinomas with a peritumoral inflammatory response). For comparison, seven cases of sclerosing sialadenitis (Küttner tumour) were examined.

Results High counts of IgG4 plasma cells were found in sclerosing sialadenitis (mean 40/high-power field (hpf)), contrasting sharply with sialadenitis caused by sialolithiasis (mean 3/hpf). Greatly varied but generally high counts of IgG4-positive plasma cells were also seen in several of the other lesions, particularly in rheumatoid synovitis (mean 55/hpf), oral cavity lesions (mean 79/hpf) and carcinoma-associated inflammatory response (mean 24/hpf). The mean IgG4/IgG ratios for all lesions varied between 0 and 0.4.

Conclusions The results demonstrate the ubiquitous occurrence of variably high numbers of IgG4-positive plasma cells under diverse non-specific inflammatory conditions, indicating that high IgG4-positive plasma cell counts and high IgG4/IgG ratios per se do not reliably distinguish IgG4-associated systemic disease from non-specific conditions, and that the IgG4 counts must be cautiously interpreted in the context of appropriate clinical and histopathological features.

  • IgG4-related disease
  • non-specific chronic inflammation
  • sialadenitis
  • synovitis
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • epulis
  • peritumoral immune response
  • histopathology
  • immunohistochemistry

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.