Diagnosis of hirschsprung disease using the rectal biopsy: multi-institutional survey

Pediatr Dev Pathol. Nov-Dec 1999;2(6):588-96. doi: 10.1007/s100249900167.


Diagnostic pathologists remain uncomfortable with the diagnosis of Hirschsprung disease (HD) via rectal (mucosal/submucosal) biopsy and with performance and interpretation of the associated acetylcholinesterase (AChE) assay. This report details the different diagnostic approaches taken by four major pediatric institutions-Children's Hospital, Columbus, OH; Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, OH; Children's Hospital, Pittsburgh, PA; Children's Hospital, Los Angeles, CA-in confirming or excluding the presence of HD. The Columbus approach emphasizes serial morphologic examination of rectal biopsies, while Cincinnati emphasizes the primary diagnostic utility of the AChE stain. Pittsburgh and Los Angeles emphasize a detailed gross and microscopic analysis of rectal biopsies to detect both conventional HD and its more rare subtypes. The diagnostic approaches of these four institutions can be used on a complementary basis to the advantage of the general diagnostic pathologist, especially in HD cases with subtle clinical presentations. The need for careful and continual communication between the clinician and pathologist in diagnosing or excluding the presence of HD is imperative.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholinesterase / analysis
  • Biopsy
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Clinical Enzyme Tests
  • Hirschsprung Disease / enzymology
  • Hirschsprung Disease / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Intestinal Mucosa / enzymology
  • Intestinal Mucosa / innervation
  • Rectum / enzymology
  • Rectum / pathology*


  • Acetylcholinesterase