NeuN expression correlates with reduced mitotic index of neoplastic cells in central neurocytomas


Robert Hevner, Pathology Box 359791, Harborview Medical Center, 325 Ninth Ave., Seattle WA 98104, USA. Tel: +1 206 341 5620; Fax: +1 206 341 5804; E-mail:


In the developing brain, neuronal differentiation is associated with permanent exit from the mitotic cycle. This raises the possibility that neuronal differentiation may suppress proliferative activity, even in neoplastic cells. As a first step towards understanding the relation between neuronal differentiation and mitotic cycling in brain tumours, we studied the expression of NeuN (a neuronal marker) and Ki-67 (a mitotic marker) by double-labelling immuno-fluorescence in 16 brain tumours with neuronal differentiation. The tumours included a series of 11 central neurocytomas, and five single cases of other tumour types. In the central neurocytomas, NeuN+ cells had a 15-fold lower Ki-67 labelling index, on average, than did NeuN cells (P < 0.01). In the other tumours (one extraventricular neurocytoma, one desmoplastic medulloblastoma, one olfactory neuroblastoma, one ganglioglioma and one anaplastic ganglioglioma), the Ki-67 labelling index was always at least fourfold lower in NeuN+ cells than in NeuN cells. These results indicate that neuronal differentiation is associated with a substantial decrease of proliferative activity in neoplastic cells of central neurocytomas, and suggest that the same may be true across diverse types of brain tumours. However, tumours with extensive neuronal differentiation may nevertheless have a high overall Ki-67 labelling index, if the mitotic activity of NeuN cells is high. The correlation between NeuN expression and reduced mitotic activity in neurocytoma cells is consistent with the hypothesis that neuronal differentiation suppresses proliferation, but further studies will be necessary to determine causality and investigate underlying mechanisms.