Dimorphic cells: a common feature throughout the low nuclear grade breast neoplasia spectrum

Mirthe de Boer, Paul J van Diest

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Columnar cell lesions (CCLs) are recognized precursor lesions of the low nuclear grade breast neoplasia family. CCLs are cystic enlarged terminal duct lobular units with monotonous (monoclonal) columnar-type luminal cells. CCLs without atypia are regarded as benign and CCLs with atypia as true precursor lesions with clonal molecular changes, a certain progression risk, and an association with more advanced lesions. However, reproducibility of designating atypia in CCL is not optimal, and no objective markers of atypia have been identified, although 16q loss seems to be associated with atypical CCLs. Dimorphic ("pale") cell populations have been described in low nuclear grade ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) but not in CCLs and atypical ductal hyperplasia (ADH). Therefore, we searched for pale cells in CCL (N = 60), ADH (N = 41), and DCIS grade 1 (N = 84). Diagnostic criteria were derived from the WHO, and atypia was designated according to the Schnitt criteria. Pale cells occurred in 0% (0/30), 73% (22/30), 56% (23/41), and 76% (64/84) of CCLs without atypia, CCLs with atypia, ADH, and DCIS grade 1, respectively. Pale cells expressed ERα, E-cadherin and p120 and variably cyclin D1, and lacked expression of CK5 and p63. In conclusion, dimorphic "pale" cells occur throughout the low nuclear grade progression spectrum, increasing in frequency with progression. Interestingly, CCL lesions without atypia do not seem to bear showed pale cells, indicating that the presence of pale cells may serve as a diagnostic morphological feature of atypia in CCLs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)369-375
Number of pages7
JournalVirchows Archives
Issue number2
Early online date15 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023


  • Atypia
  • Breast cancer
  • Columnar cells
  • Precursor lesions


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