Primary liver tumour of intermediate (hepatocyte—bile duct cell) phenotype: a progenitor cell tumour?


Department of Pathology, University of Leuven, Minderbroedersstraat 12, B-3000 Leuven, Belgium


ABSTRACT— A 57-year-old female patient presented with painless obstructive jaundice and mild mesogastric pain; she was in good general condition on admission. Abdominal ultrasonography revealed diffuse tumoral invasion of the liver, suggesting diffuse metastases. A liver biopsy showed a tumour with a trabecular growth pattern, composed of uniform relatively small cells, very suggestive of an endocrine carcinoma. Additional immunohistochemical stains, however, did not show any endocrine differentiation, but showed positivity for both hepatocyte-type cytokeratins (cytokeratin 8 and 18) and bile duct-type cytokeratins (cytokeratin 7 and 19). In addition, parathyroid hormone-related peptide, shown to be a good marker for cholangiocarcinoma, was immunoreactive. Electron microscopy revealed tumour cells with an intermediate phenotype: the cells clearly showed hepatocyte features on one hand and bile duct cell features on the other hand. Nine days after admission, the patient died due to liver failure and hepatic encephalopathy. Autopsy excluded another primary tumour site. Overall, this tumour was a primary liver tumour with an intermediate phenotype and with a very rapid clinical course. The intermediate (between hepatocyte and bile duct cell) phenotype suggests an immature progenitor cell origin, which is concordant with a rapid clinical course. This type of tumour has not been described previously and provides additional evidence for the existence of progenitor cells in human liver.