IgG4-positive plasma cell infiltration in the diagnosis of autoimmune pancreatitis

Mod Pathol. 2007 Jan;20(1):23-8. doi: 10.1038/modpathol.3800689. Epub 2006 Sep 15.


Autoimmune pancreatitis typically produces an enlarged pancreas with narrowing of the pancreatic duct, and can mimic carcinoma. Autoimmune pancreatitis usually responds to corticosteroid treatment, making it important to differentiate from pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. Affected patients often have an elevated serum IgG4. It has been proposed that increased numbers of IgG4-positive plasma cells in tissue might be a marker for the condition. We investigated the role of IgG4 staining in the diagnosis of autoimmune pancreatitis, first in resected pancreas specimens (29 autoimmune pancreatitis, nine chronic alcoholic pancreatitis and 25 pancreatic cancer), then in pancreatic needle biopsies. Immunohistochemical stains for IgG4 were scored as none, mild, moderate or marked, according to published criteria. Moderate to marked numbers of IgG4-positive plasma cells were seen in 21/29 autoimmune pancreatitis patients, and were distributed in and around ducts, in interlobular fibrous tissue and in peripancreatic fat. In contrast, eight of nine examples of chronic alcoholic pancreatitis and 22/25 ductal adenocarcinomas had scores of none or mild. When we subdivided autoimmune pancreatitis into the histologic subtypes lymphoplasmacytic sclerosing pancreatitis and idiopathic duct-destructive pancreatitis, 16/17 lymphoplasmacytic sclerosing pancreatitis had moderate to marked staining, compared to five to 12 idiopathic duct-destructive pancreatitis. Needle biopsies from nine patients suspected of having autoimmune pancreatitis had increased numbers of IgG4 cells. We conclude that pancreatic tissue from patients with autoimmune pancreatitis often shows moderate or marked infiltration by IgG4-positive plasma cells (>10/HPF). This is particularly so in the subtype we have designated lymphoplasmacytic sclerosing pancreatitis. We rarely see IgG4 staining in patients with chronic alcoholic pancreatitis and pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. IgG4-positive plasma cells are a useful marker for the tissue diagnosis of autoimmune pancreatitis.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / immunology
  • Adenocarcinoma / pathology
  • Adolescent
  • Aged
  • Autoimmune Diseases / diagnosis
  • Autoimmune Diseases / immunology
  • Autoimmune Diseases / pathology*
  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / immunology
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / pathology
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin G / analysis*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / immunology
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Pancreatitis / diagnosis
  • Pancreatitis / immunology
  • Pancreatitis / pathology*
  • Pancreatitis, Alcoholic / immunology
  • Pancreatitis, Alcoholic / pathology
  • Plasma Cells / immunology
  • Plasma Cells / pathology*
  • Severity of Illness Index


  • Biomarkers
  • Immunoglobulin G