Overview of the 2022 WHO Classification of Neuroendocrine Neoplasms

Endocr Pathol. 2022 Mar;33(1):115-154. doi: 10.1007/s12022-022-09708-2. Epub 2022 Mar 16.


In this review, we detail the changes and the relevant features that are applied to neuroendocrine neoplasms (NENs) in the 2022 WHO Classification of Endocrine and Neuroendocrine Tumors. Using a question-and-answer approach, we discuss the consolidation of the nomenclature that distinguishes neuronal paragangliomas from epithelial neoplasms, which are divided into well-differentiated neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) and poorly differentiated neuroendocrine carcinomas (NECs). The criteria for these distinctions based on differentiation are outlined. NETs are generally (but not always) graded as G1, G2, and G3 based on proliferation, whereas NECs are by definition high grade; the importance of Ki67 as a tool for classification and grading is emphasized. The clinical relevance of proper classification is explained, and the importance of hormonal function is examined, including eutopic and ectopic hormone production. The tools available to pathologists for accurate classification include the conventional biomarkers of neuroendocrine lineage and differentiation, INSM1, synaptophysin, chromogranins, and somatostatin receptors (SSTRs), but also include transcription factors that can identify the site of origin of a metastatic lesion of unknown primary site, as well as hormones, enzymes, and keratins that play a role in functional and structural correlation. The recognition of highly proliferative, well-differentiated NETs has resulted in the need for biomarkers that can distinguish these G3 NETs from NECs, including stains to determine expression of SSTRs and those that can indicate the unique molecular pathogenetic alterations that underlie the distinction, for example, global loss of RB and aberrant p53 in pancreatic NECs compared with loss of ATRX, DAXX, and menin in pancreatic NETs. Other differential diagnoses are discussed with recommendations for biomarkers that can assist in correct classification, including the distinctions between epithelial and non-epithelial NENs that have allowed reclassification of epithelial NETs in the spine, in the duodenum, and in the middle ear; the first two may be composite tumors with neuronal and glial elements, and as this feature is integral to the duodenal lesion, it is now classified as composite gangliocytoma/neuroma and neuroendocrine tumor (CoGNET). The many other aspects of differential diagnosis are detailed with recommendations for biomarkers that can distinguish NENs from non-neuroendocrine lesions that can mimic their morphology. The concepts of mixed neuroendocrine and non-neuroendocrine (MiNEN) and amphicrine tumors are clarified with information about how to approach such lesions in routine practice. Theranostic biomarkers that assist patient management are reviewed. Given the significant proportion of NENs that are associated with germline mutations that predispose to this disease, we explain the role of the pathologist in identifying precursor lesions and applying molecular immunohistochemistry to guide genetic testing.

Keywords: Amphicrine carcinoma; Biomarkers; Cauda equina neuroendocrine tumor; CoGNET; Grade 3 neuroendocrine tumor; INSM1; Inherited neuroendocrine neoplasia; L cell; Medullary thyroid carcinoma; Merkel cell carcinoma; MiNEN; Middle ear neuroendocrine tumor; Neuroendocrine carcinoma; Neuroendocrine tumor; PRRT; Pancreas; Paraganglioma; Pituitary neuroendocrine tumor; WHO classification.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Neuroendocrine* / pathology
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Neuroendocrine Tumors* / pathology
  • Receptors, Somatostatin
  • Repressor Proteins
  • World Health Organization


  • Receptors, Somatostatin
  • Repressor Proteins
  • INSM1 protein, human