Histopathological features that suggest the diagnosis of ganglioglioma require, in most cases, confirmation by special stains to distinguish these tumors from other gliomas. For this purpose, immunostaining for synaptophysin, which has previously been shown to selectively label the cell surface of neoplastic ganglion cells, was used to retrospectively examine glioma tumor specimens. Sixty-three cases of ganglioglioma were identified. The files of the Division of Neuropathology of New York University Medical Center contained 45 tumors that had been diagnosed as ganglioglioma, of which 42 were verified by synaptophysin; three cases were reclassified, two as astrocytomas and one as a gangliocytic paraganglioma. Thus, a tumor identified as ganglioglioma based on other criteria was likely to be a ganglioglioma. The other 21 cases of gangliogliomas were originally diagnosed as astrocytoma or mixed glioma, but were shown by synaptophysin staining to be gangliogliomas. In some cases the ultimate diagnosis was obtained after radical surgery provided relatively abundant amounts of tissue, thereby limiting sampling errors, in contrast to the biopsies from which the original diagnoses were made.
Histopathological review of these cases demonstrated that four features represent important clues to the correct diagnosis: 1) clusters of large cells potentially representing neurons (without such cells the tumor cannot be classified as a ganglioglioma); 2) no perineuronal clustering of the glial cells around the alleged neoplastic neurons; 3) fibrosis (desmoplasia); and 4) calcification. Binucleate neurons, previously suggested to be common in gangliogliomas, were not frequently found in this series, and lymphocytic infiltrates, while common, are so often found in other tumors that they gave no specific hint that any single neoplasm was a ganglioglioma. The glial elements were astrocytic in all cases, except that one tumor also had oligodendroglial and ependymal patterns. Four tumors also had small mature neurons, as seen in neurocytomas. Cells from one tumor were successfully grown in short-term tissue culture; the culture contained large dividing neurons with synaptophysin immunoreactivity as well as smaller dividing cells, demonstrating that the neuronal cells are a proliferating element in gangliogliomas.