Cell Polarity Reversal Distinguishes True Micropapillary Growth From Retraction Artifact in Invasive Urothelial Carcinoma

Appl Immunohistochem Mol Morphol. 2018 Jan;26(1):e1-e6. doi: 10.1097/PAI.0000000000000566.


Focal micropapillary features in invasive urothelial carcinoma is sometimes difficult to distinguish from retraction artifact morphologically. Cell polarity reversal has been demonstrated in micropapillary tumors by epithelial membrane antigen (EMA) immunostaining. We have previously described the use of E-cadherin as a cell polarity marker in ovarian micropapillary serous borderline tumors. The aim of this study was to evaluate the utility of immunohistochemistry for EMA and E-cadherin in differentiating micropapillary urothelial carcinoma from retraction artifact. We identified 29 invasive urothelial carcinomas with micropapillary features and 30 invasive urothelial carcinomas without reported micropapillary features but with areas of retraction artifact. Cell polarity reversal was considered present if E-cadherin showed membranous apical cup-like staining or if EMA demonstrated a well-defined basal staining towards the stroma. Twenty-seven of 29 cases (93%) of urothelial carcinoma with micropapillary features demonstrated EMA or E-cadherin staining patterns consistent with cell polarity reversal. Staining consistent with micropapillary architecture was identified with both markers in 20 of these 27 cases (74%). Six cases showed reversal of polarity by E-cadherin alone, whereas 1 case showed polarity reversal by EMA alone. Retraction artifacts showed circumferential staining by E-cadherin and lacked well-defined basal staining by EMA. Three cases originally classified as with retraction artifact showed reversal of cell polarity by both EMA and E-cadherin and were reclassified as micropapillary. Our data show that pathologists can reliably make this distinction in most cases. However, in some cases with ambiguous features, EMA and E-cadherin immunostaining may aid in resolving this diagnostic dilemma.

MeSH terms

  • Artifacts
  • Cadherins / chemistry
  • Cell Polarity*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mucin-1 / metabolism
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / physiopathology*


  • Cadherins
  • Mucin-1