Gastrointestinal stromal tumors: An ultrastructural study

Rhonda K. Yantiss, Andrew E. Rosenberg, Martin K. Selig, G. Petur Nielsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs) represent an enigmatic group of lesions of uncertain phenotype and biologic potential. Although earlier studies suggested smooth muscle cells, schwann cells, or neuronal differentiation, more recent evidence indicates that these tumors show phenotypic features that are similar to the interstitial cells of Cajal. Recently, investigators have begun to evaluate these lesions in a site-specific manner and have found that, in addition to morphologic differences between them, their biologic behavior also appears to be linked to their anatomic location. Many of these studies have emphasized the histologic and immunophenotypic features of GISTs in relation to their sites of origin, however, their site-specific ultrastructural characteristics have received little attention in the literature. In this study, we evaluated 34 GISTs (15 gastric, 12 small intestinal, 4 colonic, and 3 omental) for a variety of ultrastructural features in an effort to identify site-specific similarities and differences. Tumors predominantly composed of epithelioid cells were more commonly seen in gastric (60%) and omental (67%) tumors than in those of the small intestine (33%) and colon (0%). Cytoplasmic filaments and intercellular junctions were commonly seen in tumors from all locations, the filaments frequently forming paranuclear aggregates in the epithelioid cells. Tumors from all sites were composed of cells with surface filopodia and interdigitating cell processes, but in tumors of the stomach and omentum the filopodia were usually short and minimally intertwined, whereas those of small and large intestinal GISTs were characteristically long and complex. Basal lamina, though poorly formed, was present only in tumors of gastric and omental origin (13% and 67%, respectively). Pinocytotic vesicles were also seen in tumors from these sites (33% of gastric tumors and 67% of omental lesions) as well as those of the small intestine (17%) and the colon (25%). None of the gastric or omental tumors had microtubules; they were, however, seen in small intestinal (33%) and colonic (25%) stromal tumors. Skenoid fibers were seen in 33% of small intestinal GISTs and 1 metastatic gastric GIST. Overall, gastric and omental tumors have better developed features of myogenic differentiation and have blunt filopodia and minimally intertwined cell processes. Indeed, these 2 groups are indistinguishable ultrastructurally, raising the possibility that the genesis of omental GISTs is similar to that of gastric stromal tumors. Small intestinal stromal tumors have characteristic interdigitating cell processes and numerous elongate filopodia-like structures harboring intercellular junctions as well as microtubules and extracellular skenoid fibers. The constituent cells in colonic stromal tumors, while more reminiscent of small intestinal stromal, were frequently more primitive in appearance. In conclusion, GISTs from different anatomic locations share many overlapping ultrastructural characteristics; however, a few features are distinctive. It is hoped that these findings will aid in their recognition and contribute to the classification of this heterogeneous group of neoplasms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)101-113
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Surgical Pathology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Gastrointestinal stromal tumor
  • Gastrointestinal tract
  • Interstitial cells of Cajal
  • Mesenchymal neoplasms
  • Ultrastructure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Surgery


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