Atretic cephalocele and encephalocele: A single-institution clinicopathological study

J Cutan Pathol. 2023 Jul;50(7):653-660. doi: 10.1111/cup.14399. Epub 2023 Feb 24.


Background: Encephaloceles are neural tube defects characterized by herniation of meninges, neural tissue and cerebrospinal fluid, while atretic cephaloceles denote a rudimentary connection to the intracranial space with absence of herniated neural tissue and represent an infrequent dermatopathologic diagnosis. Limited reports of these entities confound the challenge in their histopathologic distinction. Accurate classification is important given associated anomalies and neurologic manifestations that impact prognosis.

Methods: We describe the clinicopathological and immunohistochemical [glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), S100, epithelial membrane antigen (EMA), and somatostatin receptor subtype 2A (SSTR2A)] features in a retrospective series encountered at a single institution between 1994 and 2020.

Results: We identified 13 cases classified as atretic cephalocele (n = 11) and encephalocele (n = 2). Hamartomatous changes and multinucleated cells were unique to atretic cephaloceles while myxoid areas were unique to encephaloceles. At least focal staining for SSTRA was seen in all atretic cephaloceles with the majority (87.5%) staining for EMA; negative staining for GFAP and S100 confirmed absence of neural tissue. Encephaloceles were GFAP and S100 positive, and negative for SSTR2 and EMA. Atretic cephaloceles had a favorable prognosis compared to encephaloceles, with severe morbidity present in both encephalocele cases.

Conclusion: Our study raises awareness of atretic cephalocele and encephalocele among dermatopathologists and reveals a mutually exclusive immunophenotype that facilitates their distinction for prognostication and management.

Keywords: S100; atretic cephalocele; cephalocele; encephalocele; epithelial membrane antigen (EMA); glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP); somatostatin receptor subtype 2A (SSTR2A).

MeSH terms

  • Encephalocele* / pathology
  • Humans
  • Meninges* / pathology
  • Prognosis
  • Retrospective Studies