Inverse p16 and p63 expression in small cell carcinoma and high-grade urothelial cell carcinoma of the urinary bladder

Int J Surg Pathol. 2010 Apr;18(2):94-102. doi: 10.1177/1066896909359914. Epub 2010 Feb 16.


Small cell carcinoma (SmCC) of the urinary bladder is a rare, highly aggressive neoplasm. The diagnosis is usually made on morphologic grounds, with the help of immunohistochemistry to document neuroendocrine differentiation. However, neuroendocrine markers generally have low sensitivity, ranging between 30-70%. Recent studies have reported p16 over-expression in SmCC of the lung, suggesting that p16 immunohistochemistry may be useful in the diagnosis of bladder SmCC. This is the first study to analyze the usefulness of p16 in the distinction of small cell and high grade urothelial cell carcinoma (HG-UCC). Fourteen cases of SmCCs and sixteen cases of HG-UCC of the bladder were stained with p16, p63, cytokeratin 20 (CK20), cytokeratin 7 (CK7), chromogranin (Chr), synaptophysin (Syn), and CD56. P16 expression was significantly higher in SmCCs (92.8%) when compared to HG-UCCs (43.7%). P63 and CK20, on the other hand, were positive in the majority of HG-UCCs (81.3% and 50%, respectively), while only 14.3% of SmCCs showed focal immunoreactivity with CK20. The sensitivity of the traditional neuroendocrine markers was low, ranging between 28.6% (Chr) and 71.4% (CD56) in SmCCs. P16 positivity in the absence of p63 and CK20 is highly characteristic of SmCC, while p63 and CK20 positivity with or without p16 expression is typical of HG-UCC.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Small Cell / diagnosis
  • Carcinoma, Small Cell / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma, Transitional Cell / diagnosis
  • Carcinoma, Transitional Cell / metabolism*
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p16
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Proteins / metabolism*
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Urothelium / pathology


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • CKAP4 protein, human
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p16
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • P16 protein, human