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Necrobiotic xanthogranuloma pathology

Author: Harriet Cheng BHB, MBChB, Dermatology Unit, Waikato Hospital, Hamilton, New Zealand, 2013.

Table of contents

Necrobiotic xanthogranuloma is a rare multisystem histiocytic disease usually affecting older adults. The typical clinical lesion is an asymptomatic yellowish indurated plaque in a periorbital location. Approximately 80% of cases are associated with paraproteinaemia. Additional extracutaneous features include ophthalmic involvement, cryoglobulinaemia and lymphoproliferative disorders.

Histology of necrobiotic xanthogranuloma

Palisading xanthogranulomas with foci of necrobiosis are found in the mid dermis and panniculus (Figures 1, 2). Involvement of the panniculus is septal (figure 2) and may mimic panniculitis. Focal areas of necrobiotic collagen appear as amorphous eosinophilic debris (Figure 3) and often contain cholesterol clefts. Granulomas consist of foamy histiocytes (Figure 4, arrow), and giant cells (Figure 5). Both touton and foreign body giant cells are found. Quite striking angulated giant cells with darkly staining nuclei adjacent to areas of necrobiosis are a characteristic feature. Plasma cells are typically prominent. Sometimes there are dense lymphoid infiltrates with germinal centres.

Necrobiotic xanthogranuloma pathology

Special studies for necrobiotic xanthogranuloma

Oil red O staining for fat may reveal focal lipid droplets. Small amounts of interstitial mucin may be found on Alcian blue staining.

Differential diagnosis of necrobiotic xanthogranuloma

Necrobiosis lipoidica: presence of numerous cholesterol clefts, bizzare and touton type multinucleated giant cells differentiate necrobiotic xanthogranuloma from necrobiosis lipoidica. Necrobiosis lipoidica characteristically has a horizonatally layered pattern of necrobiosis (“layer cake” pattern). However, differentiation may be difficult on small punch biopsies. Clinical correlation is helpful.

Granuloma annulare: zones of necrobiosis surrounded by palisading macrophages and lymphocytes. Giant cells and plasma cells are much less prominent than in necrobiotic xanthogranuloma. Absence of cholesterol clefts.



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  • Weedon’s Skin Pathology (Third edition, 2010). David Weedon
  • Pathology of the Skin (Fourth edition, 2012). McKee PH, J. Calonje JE, Granter SR

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