Molecular Pathology of Well-Differentiated Pulmonary and Thymic Neuroendocrine Tumors: What Do Pathologists Need to Know?

M. Volante*, O. Mete, G. Pelosi, A.C. Roden, E.J.M. Speel, S. Uccella

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal(Systematic) Review article peer-review


Thoracic (pulmonary and thymic) neuroendocrine tumors are well-differentiated epithelial neuroendocrine neoplasms that are classified into typical and atypical carcinoid tumors based on mitotic index cut offs and presence or absence of necrosis. This classification scheme is of great prognostic value but designed for surgical specimens, only. Deep molecular characterization of thoracic neuroendocrine tumors highlighted their difference with neuroendocrine carcinomas. Neuroendocrine tumors of the lung are characterized by a low mutational burden, and a high prevalence of mutations in chromatin remodeling and histone modification-related genes, whereas mutations in genes frequently altered in neuroendocrine carcinomas are rare. Molecular profiling divided thymic neuroendocrine tumors into three clusters with distinct clinical outcomes and characterized by a different average of copy number instability. Moreover, integrated histopathological, molecular and clinical evidence supports the existence of a grey zone category between neuroendocrine tumors (carcinoid tumors) and neuroendocrine carcinomas. Indeed, cases with well differentiated morphology but mitotic/Ki-67 indexes close to neuroendocrine carcinomas have been increasingly recognized. These are characterized by specific molecular profiles and have an aggressive clinical behavior. Finally, thoracic neuroendocrine tumors may arise in the background of genetic susceptibility, being MEN1 syndrome the well-defined familial form. However, pathologists should be aware of rarer germline variants that are associated with the concurrence of neuroendocrine tumors of the lung or their precursors (such as DIPNECH) with other neoplasms, including but not limited to breast carcinomas. Therefore, genetic counseling for all young patients with thoracic neuroendocrine neoplasia and/or any patient with pathological evidence of neuroendocrine cell hyperplasia-to-neoplasia progression sequence or multifocal disease should be considered.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)154-168
Number of pages15
JournalEndocrine Pathology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021


  • carcinoid
  • dipnech
  • germline variants
  • lung
  • men1
  • molecular
  • neuroendocrine tumor
  • thymus
  • Germline variants
  • Lung
  • Molecular
  • Thymus
  • Carcinoid
  • Neuroendocrine tumor
  • MEN1


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