Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from Diagnostic Pathology and BioMed Central.

Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research

Thymomas: a cytological and immunohistochemical study, with emphasis on lymphoid and neuroendocrine markers

Borislav A Alexiev*, Cinthia B Drachenberg and Allen P Burke

  • * Corresponding author: Borislav A Alexiev

  • † Equal contributors

Author affiliations

Department of Pathology, University of Maryland Medical Center, 22 S Greene Street, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

Citation and License

Diagnostic Pathology 2007, 2:13  doi:10.1186/1746-1596-2-13

Published: 11 May 2007



The current study correlates cytologic morphology with histologic type and describes immunophenotypes with a focus on epithelial, neuroendocrine, and lymphoid characteristics in an institutional series of surgically excised thymomas.


Fine needle aspirates (FNAs) and surgical specimens were retrospectively analyzed, and immunohistochemical stains were performed for EMA, cytokeratin 7, cytokeratin 20, CD57 CD5, bcl-2, calretinin, vimentin, CD3, CD20, CD1a, CD99 and Ki67. Tumors were classified by WHO criteria.


There were eleven male and six female patients with an age range of 41 to 84 years (mean, 61 years) and a male to female ratio of 1.8:1. Four thymomas (4/17, 23.5%) were associated with neuromuscular disease: myasthenia gravis (n = 3) and limbic encephalitis (n = 1). FNA, under CT guidance, was performed in 7 cases. The positive predictive value for thymoma by FNA cytology was 100% and the sensitivity was 71%. Thymomas associated with neuromuscular disorders were WHO types B2 (n = 1) and B3 (n = 3), and showed a strong expression of CD57 in the majority of neoplastic epithelial cells accompanied by large numbers of CD20+ intratumoral B lymphocytes. Two of seventeen (11.7%) thymomas (all sporadic B3 type) contained numerous neoplastic epithelial cells positive for CD5 and bcl-2.


Our results suggest that thymomas associated with autoimmune disorders contain a significant population of CD20+ intratumoral B lymphocytes. Strong CD57 positivity in thymomas may suggest a concomitant neuromuscular disorder, notably myasthenia gravis. CD5 expression is of limited value in the differential diagnosis of primary thymic epithelial neoplasms since both thymic carcinomas and thymomas may express CD5.