A comprehensive analysis of PAX8 expression in human epithelial tumors

Am J Surg Pathol. 2011 Jun;35(6):816-26. doi: 10.1097/PAS.0b013e318216c112.


PAX8 is a paired-box gene important in embryogenesis of the thyroid, Müllerian, and renal/upper urinary tracts, and expression of PAX8 has been previously described in carcinomas from each of these sites. However, a large study including a wide variety of epithelial neoplasms from multiple organ sites other than the thyroid, kidney, or Müllerian system has not been performed. The goal of this study was to evaluate the utility of PAX8 immunostaining based on the evaluation of a wide range of epithelial tumors. PAX8 immunohistochemistry was performed on 1357 tumors (486 tumors in whole-tissue sections and 871 tumors in tissue microarrays, predominantly epithelial) from multiple organs. Only nuclear staining was scored as positive, and tumors were evaluated for the extent and intensity of staining. Western blot analysis with PAX8 was also performed on multiple tumor cell lines. Nuclear PAX8 staining was present in 91% (60 of 66) of thyroid tumors, 90% (158 of 176) of renal cell carcinomas (RCCs), 81% (13 of 16) of renal oncocytomas, 99% (164 of 165) of high-grade ovarian serous carcinomas, 71% (32 of 49) of nonserous ovarian epithelial neoplasms, 91% (10 of 11) of cervical epithelial lesions, and 98% (152 of 155) of endometrial adenocarcinomas. Of the remaining 719 evaluated tumors, only 30 cases (4%), including 12 thymic neoplasms, 3 bladder urothelial carcinomas, 4 lung squamous cell carcinomas, 2 esophageal adenocarcinomas, 1 pancreatic adenocarcinoma, 2 cholangiocarcinomas, 1 ovarian Sertoli-Leydig cell tumor, 1 ovarian sex cord stromal tumor, 3 testicular mixed germ cell tumors, and 1 acinic cell carcinoma, showed at least weak or focal PAX8 positivity. The unexpected finding was diffuse, moderate staining of PAX8 in a subset of thymomas and thymic carcinomas. The 689 remaining tumors, including but not limited to those from the prostate, colon, stomach, liver, adrenal gland, and head and neck, and small cell carcinomas from the lung, cervix, and ovary, were PAX8 negative. PAX8 specificity was confirmed by Western blot analysis, as expression was detected only in ovarian and RCC cell lines. These results show that PAX8 is a highly sensitive marker for thyroid, renal, Müllerian, and thymic tumors. Importantly, all lung adenocarcinomas, breast and adrenal neoplasms, and the majority of gastrointestinal tumors were negative for PAX8. Therefore, PAX8 is an excellent marker for confirming primary tumor site. In a subset of cases, additional markers, including but not limited to thyroid transcription factor-1, RCC, and Wilms tumor-1, may be needed to distinguish between the 3 most common PAX8-positive tumors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / diagnosis
  • Adenocarcinoma / metabolism*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism*
  • Blotting, Western
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism
  • Cell Nucleus / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • PAX8 Transcription Factor
  • Paired Box Transcription Factors / metabolism*
  • Precancerous Conditions / diagnosis
  • Precancerous Conditions / metabolism*
  • Tissue Array Analysis


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • PAX8 Transcription Factor
  • PAX8 protein, human
  • Paired Box Transcription Factors