Cytomorphology of primary CNS lymphoma: review of 23 cases and evidence for the role of EBV

Diagn Cytopathol. 1996 Mar;14(2):114-20. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1097-0339(199603)14:2<114::AID-DC3>3.0.CO;2-J.


Primary non-Hodgkin's lymphoma of the central nervous system (PCNSL) has recently increased in incidence, due primarily to an enlarging immunosuppressed patient population. The pathogenetic role of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is of interest due to its established role in other lymphoproliferative disorders in immunosuppressed patients. Twenty-three cases of histologically confirmed PCNSL with corresponding cytology were identified, all obtained under stereotactic guidance. Twenty patients were human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) positive, two were HIV negative, and one was of unknown status. Papanicolaou-stained slides were selected from each case and evaluated for the presence of EBV RNA via in situ hybridization (ISH) utilizing a biotinylated probe specific for EBER 1 RNA, and detected by a conventional streptavidin-peroxidase system. The cases included immunoblastic (12), large cell (10), and mixed small and large cell lymphoma (1). The predominant immunophenotype was B-cell (19), although T-cell (2) and biphenotypic (1) cases were also identified. ISH showed nuclear positivity for EBV RNA in 19 of 23 cases (83%). This study confirms the presence of EBV in PCNSL in immunosuppressed patients and implies a potential etiologic role. The ability to demonstrate EBV RNA in cytologic preparations by ISH also raises the possibility of early identification of high-risk patients through detection of EBV-infected lymphocytes in CSF specimens.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Burkitt Lymphoma / diagnosis*
  • Burkitt Lymphoma / pathology*
  • Burkitt Lymphoma / virology
  • Central Nervous System Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Central Nervous System Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Central Nervous System Neoplasms / virology
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / complications
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / physiology*
  • Humans
  • In Situ Hybridization
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • RNA, Viral / analysis
  • Tumor Virus Infections / diagnosis*
  • Tumor Virus Infections / pathology*
  • Tumor Virus Infections / virology


  • RNA, Viral