Mitotic catastrophe in malignant epithelial tumors: the pathologist's viewpoint

Ultrastruct Pathol. 2011 Apr;35(2):66-71. doi: 10.3109/01913123.2010.543753.


Mitotic catastrophe is a common phenomenon occurring in tumor cells with impaired p53 function exposed to various cytotoxic and genotoxic agents. The defective p53 checkpoint causes improper segregation of chromosomes, resulting in aberrant mitosis, multiple micronuclei, multinucleate giant cells, and eventual necrosis-like death and centrosome aberration. Although various descriptions explaining mitotic catastrophe exist, there is still no generally accepted definition of this phenomenon. However, the syndrome of mitotic catastrophe may be a unifying morphological concept of particular interest to cancer research, as it integrally links cell death to checkpoints of the cell cycle. Morphological findings compatible with mitotic catastrophe may be found in pleomorphic, giant cell carcinomas--neoplasms characterized by a poor prognosis. The inclusion of mitotic catastrophe as part of the microscopic evaluation of tumors will add further insight to the pathobiology of tumor progression and in novel therapeutic designs. Finally, the possibility of assimilating mitotic catastrophe into a prognostic score is discussed.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Carcinoma / chemistry
  • Carcinoma / pathology*
  • Carcinoma / ultrastructure
  • Cell Death
  • Cell Nucleus / pathology
  • Centrosome / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Ki-67 Antigen / analysis
  • Mitosis*
  • Mitotic Index
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prognosis
  • Terminology as Topic
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / analysis


  • Ki-67 Antigen
  • TP53 protein, human
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53