Integrative histopathological and immunophenotypical characterisation of the inflammatory microenvironment in spitzoid melanocytic neoplasms

Histopathology. 2021 Mar;78(4):607-626. doi: 10.1111/his.14259. Epub 2020 Nov 19.


Aims: The role of inflammation in conventional cutaneous melanoma has been extensively studied, whereas only little is known about the inflammatory microenvironment and immunogenic properties of spitzoid melanocytic neoplasms. The composition of infiltrating immune cells and the architectural distribution of the inflammation, in particular, are still obscure. This is the first study, to our knowledge, to systematically characterise the inflammatory patterns and the leucocyte subsets in spitzoid melanocytic lesions.

Methods and results: We examined 79 spitzoid neoplasms including banal Spitz naevi (SN, n = 50), atypical Spitz tumours (AST, n = 17) and malignant Spitz tumours (MST, n = 12) using histopathological analysis and immunohistochemistry. Spitzoid melanocytic lesions showed a high frequency (67.1%, n = 53 of 79) of inflammation. Four inflammatory patterns were identified according to architectural composition, distribution and intensity of inflammation. The majority of the inflammatory infiltrate corresponded to CD3+ /CD8+ T lymphocytes (56.1%), followed by CD3+ /CD4+ T cells (35.7%) and CD68+ histiocytes (20.3%). CD3+ /TIA-1+ cytotoxic T lymphocytes constituted 3.7% of inflammatory cells. Rarely, CD3+ / granzyme B+ cytotoxic T lymphocytes (2.7%) and CD138+ plasma cells (0.5%) were detected in the infiltrating immune cells. There was no significant difference in the inflammatory cellular composition among the spitzoid melanocytic subgroups (SN versus AST versus MST).

Conclusion: Our findings demonstrate that Spitz tumours are highly immunogenic lesions. Inflammation with the presence of lymphocytic aggregates predominated in SN, but was not distinctive for this melanocytic category. A strong and intense inflammation was suggestive of an underlying malignancy. The infiltrating cytotoxic T lymphocyte subsets in Spitz tumours deserve further investigation in larger study cohorts to elucidate prognostic and immuno-oncological therapeutic relevance.

Keywords: Spitz naevus (SN); Spitz tumour; T lymphocyte; atypical Spitz tumour (AST); inflammation; malignant Spitz tumour (MST); spitzoid melanocytic neoplasm.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Melanoma / diagnosis
  • Melanoma / immunology
  • Melanoma / pathology*
  • Melanoma, Cutaneous Malignant
  • Skin Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Skin Neoplasms / immunology
  • Skin Neoplasms / pathology*