Pancreatic Neoplasms With Acinar Differentiation: A Review of Pathologic and Molecular Features

Arch Pathol Lab Med. 2020 Jul 1;144(7):808-815. doi: 10.5858/arpa.2019-0472-RA.


Context.—: Pancreatic acinar lesions encompass a broad spectrum of malignant tumors and benign reactive processes affecting both adults and children, with clinical, pathologic, and molecular features that are distinct from more common ductal neoplasms. Accurate morphologic diagnosis and molecular assessment of these uncommon neoplasms is critical for effective patient care.

Objective.—: To review the clinical, pathologic, and molecular features of pancreatic neoplasms with acinar differentiation, the most common of which is acinar cell carcinoma but which also includes mixed carcinomas with acinar components, cystic acinar lesions, and pancreatoblastoma.

Data sources.—: We assessed the current primary literature, as well as recently updated diagnostic manuals.

Conclusions.—: Pancreatic acinar neoplasms are a morphologically and molecularly heterogeneous group of diseases that are characterized by acinar differentiation of at least a subset of the neoplastic cells, defined either morphologically (granular cytoplasm, single prominent nucleoli) or immunohistochemically. Squamoid nests are a key morphologic feature of pancreatoblastoma. Alterations in WNT signaling and chromosomal 11p loss are common molecular features of both acinar cell carcinoma and pancreatoblastoma. Targetable molecular alterations in acinar carcinoma include BRAF rearrangements and DNA repair defects, including mismatch repair deficiency and BRCA pathway defects. For practicing pathologists, morphologic recognition of such acinar neoplasms is critical, and in the future, molecular diagnostics to identify lesions susceptible to targeted therapy will likely form an important component of patient care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics*
  • Biopsy
  • Carcinoma, Acinar Cell / chemistry
  • Carcinoma, Acinar Cell / genetics*
  • Carcinoma, Acinar Cell / pathology*
  • Cell Differentiation*
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Molecular Diagnostic Techniques
  • Neoplasms, Complex and Mixed / chemistry
  • Neoplasms, Complex and Mixed / genetics*
  • Neoplasms, Complex and Mixed / pathology*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / chemistry
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Phenotype
  • Predictive Value of Tests


  • Biomarkers, Tumor

Supplementary concepts

  • Pancreatoblastoma