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FOXL2 Is a Sensitive and Specific Marker for Sex Cord-Stromal Tumors of the Ovary

Al-Agha, Osama M. MD; Huwait, Hassan F. MD; Chow, Christine BMLSc; Yang, Winnie BSc; Senz, Janine BSc; Kalloger, Steve E. BSc; Huntsman, David G. MD; Young, Robert H. MD; Gilks, C. Blake MD

The American Journal of Surgical Pathology: April 2011 - Volume 35 - Issue 4 - p 484–494
doi: 10.1097/PAS.0b013e31820a406c
Original Articles

Sex cord-stromal tumors (SCSTs) of the ovary are relatively uncommon tumors. Diagnosis of SCST rests primarily on the histomorphology of these tumors, and tumors with an atypical or unconventional appearance can pose diagnostic challenges. Previously, we had identified FOXL2 (402C→G) mutation as being characteristic of adult granulosa cell tumors (aGCTs). However, molecular screening for this mutation is not always possible and adds time and cost to the diagnostic process. In this study, we investigated the potential diagnostic use of immunostaining for FOXL2 on formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tissue sections. Using a commercially available polyclonal antiserum against FOXL2 protein, immunoexpression of FOXL2 was tested in 501 ovarian tumor samples, including 119 SCSTs, using whole tissue sections and tissue microarrays. Staining was correlated with FOXL2 mutation status. In addition, we compared FOXL2 immunoexpression with that of α-inhibin and calretinin, the 2 traditional immunomarkers of SCST, in a subset of 89 SCSTs. FOXL2 immunostaining was present in 95 of 119 (80%) SCSTs, including >95% of aGCTs, juvenile granulosa cell tumors, fibromas, and sclerosing stromal tumors. Only 50% of Sertoli-Leydig cell tumors (N=40) expressed FOXL2. One of 11 steroid cell tumors and 3 of 3 female adnexal tumors of probable Wolffian origin showed FOXL2 immunoreactivity, whereas all other non-SCSTs tested (N=368) were negative for FOXL2 expression. Thus, the sensitivity and specificity of FOXL2 immunoreactivity for SCST are 80% and 99%, respectively. The FOXL2 (402C→G) mutation was confirmed to be both a sensitive and relatively specific indicator of aGCT. Forty-five of 119 SCSTs were mutation positive. These cases were 39 of 42 (93%) aGCTs, 3 of 40 Sertoli-Leydig cell tumors, 2 of 5 thecomas, and 1 of 4 (25%) SCSTs of unclassified type. SCSTs harboring a FOXL2 mutation consistently immunoexpressed FOXL2 (44 of 45, 98%), but FOXL2 immunostaining was also seen in many SCSTs that lacked a mutation (49 of 73, 67%). FOXL2 immunostaining showed higher sensitivity for the diagnosis of SCST, compared with α-inhibin and calretinin, and FOXL2 staining was typically more intense in positive cases compared with either α-inhibin or calretinin. In the SCSTs that were negative for FOXL2 expression, α-inhibin and/or calretinin immunostaining yielded positive results. In conclusion, FOXL2 is a relatively sensitive and highly specific marker for SCST. FOXL2 staining is present in almost all SCSTs with a FOXL2 mutation, and also in a majority of SCSTs without a mutation. FOXL2, together with α-inhibin and calretinin, forms an immunomarker panel that will result in positive staining with 1 or more markers in essentially all cases of SCST.

*Genetic Pathology Evaluation Center

Center for Translational and Applied Genomics

Department of Pathology, Vancouver General Hospital, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

§Department of Pathology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA

Supported by grants from CIHR (#200281 and 102198) and an unrestricted educational grant from sanofiaventis.

Correspondence: David G. Huntsman, MD, Centre for Translational and Applied Genomics (CTAG), British Columbia Cancer Agency, 3427-600 West 10th Avenue, Vancouver, BC V5Z 4E6, Canada (e-mail:

Copyright © 2011 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.