Keratinized squamous cells in fine needle aspiration of the brain: Cytopathologic correlates and differential diagnosis

Anil V. Parwani, David C. Taylor, Peter C. Burger, Yener S. Erozan, Alessandro Olivi, Syed Z. Ali

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: To analyze the differential diagnosis when keratinized squamous cells are found in a brain aspirate. STUDY DESIGN: Twenty cases of brain aspirates with keratinized squamous cells were retrieved (1982-2001). Diagnoses included craniopharyngioma (CP) (n = 11), metastatic squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) (n = 5), epidermoid cyst (EC) (n = 3) and Rathke cleft cyst (RCC) (n = 1). Aspirates were obtained under stereotactic radiologic (CT) guidance. Smears were stained with DiffQuik® or Papanicolaou stain, and cell block sections were stained with hematoxylin and eosin. Radiologic and histopathologic correlation with subsequent resection specimens was performed in selected cases. RESULTS: CP showed cellular smears with numerous keratinized squamous cells in a background of degenerated cellular and keratinaceous debris. Also noted were clusters of anucleate squamous cells, multinucleated giant cells, histiocytes, calcified debris and characteristic fragments of basaloid epithelial cells. Metastatic SCC showed single cells and tissue fragments of markedly atypical and focally keratinized cells with enlarged, hyperchromatic nuclei; prominent pleomorphism in a background of necrotic cellular debris and acute inflammatory exudate. EC showed numerous isolated keratinized squamous cells often with prominent keratohyaline granules and occasional parakeratotic cells in a relatively clean background. RCC showed single cells and aggregates of benign-appearing squamous cells admixed with numerous anucleate squames and hemosiderin-laden macrophages. Glandular-type epithelium was present only rarely. CONCLUSION: Squamous cell-containing lesions in the brain present a spectrum of pathologic entities. Although they all display the common morphologic denominator of keratinizing squamous cells, subtle cytomorphologic differences exist in these lesions, permitting an accurate cytopathologic diagnosis. Clinicoradiologic fea tures and anatomic location of the tumor in the brain are additionally helpful.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)325-331
Number of pages7
JournalActa cytologica
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 2003


  • Aspiration biopsy
  • Brain
  • Carcinoma, squamous cell
  • Craniopharyngioma
  • Epidermoid cyst
  • Rathke cleft cysts

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Histology


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