Neuropathology of Pituitary Adenomas and Sellar Lesions

Neurosurgery. 2021 Apr 15;88(5):900-918. doi: 10.1093/neuros/nyaa548.


The pituitary gland is the site of numerous neoplastic and inflammatory processes. The overwhelmingly most frequent tumors arise from cells of the anterior lobe, the pituitary neuroendocrine tumors (PitNETs). Immunohistochemistry assay staining for pituitary hormones is the core tool for classifying PitNETs, resulting in the diagnosis of somatotroph PitNETs, lactotroph PitNETs, and so on. For cases showing no hormonal expression, the updated WHO classification system now considers the assessment of several transcription factors: PIT-1 (pituitary-specific POU-class homeodomain transcription factor); T-PIT (T-box family member TBX19); and SF-1 (steroidogenic factor regulating gonadotroph cell differentiation) before rendering a diagnosis of null cell adenoma. Other tumors and disease processes of this site often mimic PitNETs radiographically and sometimes even clinically (ie, compression of the optic chiasm). These potpourri of processes include germ cell neoplasms (especially germinomas), tumors that originate from Rathke's pouch (craniopharyngiomas, Rathke's cleft cyst), tumors that originate from the posterior lobe of the pituitary (pituicytoma, spindle cell oncocytoma, granular cell tumor), and tumors that originate from the meninges (especially meningiomas). In addition to neoplasms, several described inflammatory and related conditions exist that need to be distinguished from PitNETs. These include lymphocytic hypophysitis and Langerhans cell histiocytosis, a neoplastic disorder of histiocytes. In this review, we aim to briefly describe the main pituitary and sellar lesions, with emphasis on the most common tumors, the PitNETs.

Keywords: Craniopharyngioma; Germ cell; Inflammatory; Neurohypophysitis; Neuropathology; Pituitary adenoma; Sellar.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenoma / pathology*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pituitary Gland / pathology*
  • Pituitary Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Young Adult