Pathological confirmation of cystic fibrosis in the fetus following prenatal diagnosis

Am J Med Genet. 1987 Dec;28(4):935-47. doi: 10.1002/ajmg.1320280420.


Prenatal diagnosis of cystic fibrosis is presently based on the determination of microvillar enzyme activities in the amniotic fluid. However, there seems to be no accurate means for confirming the diagnosis of the aborted fetus. During the past year we performed pathological and histopathological examinations on 7 fetuses diagnosed in the second trimester of pregnancy to be affected by cystic fibrosis and compared them with 4 control age-matched fetuses. Glycol-methacrylate-embedded 2-3-mu thick sections of the pancreas, lungs, bronchial tree, and GI tract were stained with toluidine blue, H&E, PAS, and AB-PAS, and examined microscopically. In the controls, PAS-positive granules were dispersed throughout the cytoplasm of most pancreatic acinar and tracheal submucosal glandular cells. In the affected fetuses 2 distinct groups were identified. In one group of 4 fetuses, the pancreatic and tracheal submucosal glands were dilated and contained a weak PAS-positive material. The glandular epithelial cells had very little PAS-positive granules. In this group, the tracheal epithelium was either atrophic or metaplastic and devoid of microvilli. In the second group of 3 fetuses there was less dilation of the glands, and both pancreatic acinar cells and tracheal submucosal glandular epithelial cells contained few PAS-positive granules, which were confined mainly to a perinuclear location. The tracheal epithelial cells contained few microvilli which, when present, appeared thicker and shorter as compared to controls. We feel that histochemical evaluation of pancreatic and bronchial tissue may be of help in the pathological confirmation of cystic fibrosis in human fetuses where the results of the biochemical studies are suggestive of the disease.

MeSH terms

  • Cystic Fibrosis / pathology*
  • Cytoplasmic Granules / ultrastructure
  • Female
  • Fetal Diseases / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Mucous Membrane / pathology
  • Muscle, Smooth / pathology
  • Pancreas / pathology
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Diagnosis*