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Home > G. Tumoral pathology > neurofibroma


Wednesday 7 July 2004


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Digital cases

- HPC:56 : Atypical neurofibroma in neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1)
- HPC:105 : Plexiform neurofibroma in neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1)
- HPC:401 : Diffuse and plexiform neurofibroma NF1
- UI:344 - Neurofibroma.
- JRC:12076 : Neurofibroma.

Definition: A neurofibroma is a benign nerve sheath tumor in the peripheral nervous system, consisting of a mixture of cell types including Schwann cells, perineurial-like cells and fibroblasts.

Neurofibromas are benign tumors and the tumor cells have features of Schwann cells, perineural cells, and fibroblast. There are three major types of neurofibromas: cutaneous, subcutaneous, and plexiform.

Sporadic neurofibroma is a tumor of the periphery of the peripheral nervous system and occurs most commonly in the extremities. In contrast, neurofibromas in NF1 patients have an increased tendency to occur near the spinal cord and the brain and in uncommon locations such as the tongue and parotid glands.

Usually found in individuals with neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1), a genetically-inherited disease, they can result in a range of symptoms from physical disfiguration and pain to cognitive disability.

Neurofibromas arise from Schwann cells that exhibit biallelic inactivation of the NF1 gene that codes for the protein neurofibromin. This protein is responsible for regulating the RAS-mediated cell growth pathway.

In contrast to schwannomas, another type of tumor arising from Schwann cells, neurofibromas incorporate many additional types of cells and structural elements in addition to Schwann cells, making it difficult to identify and understand all the mechanisms through which they originate and develop.


- combined proliferation of all elements of a peripheral nerve: axons, Schwann’s cells
- usually predominant cellular element: fibroblasts
- markedly elongated nuclei with:
- wavy serpentine configuration
- rich network of collagen fibers:
- may be prominent mucinous changes:
- may result in mistaken diagnosis of myxoma or myxoid liposarcoma
- often numerous mast cells
- sometimes distorted organoid structures resembling Wagner–Meissner or Pacini’s corpuscles
- +/- scattered large hyperchromatic nuclei (neurofibroma with atypia)
- mitotic activity scanty or absent
-MIB-1 index very low
- may also be increased cellularity
- +/- melanin (pigmented neurofibroma):
+/- skeletal muscle differentiation (neuromuscular hamartoma)
+/- granular cells similar to those of granular cell tumor
+/- dendritic cell morphology and contain pseudorosettes

- Suspect malignant transformation if:

  • frequent mitoses
  • overly expressed cell proliferation markers
  • p53 in many tumor cells


- enclose axons in plasmalemmal invaginations (mesaxons)


Neurofibromas have been subdivided into two broad categories: dermal and plexiform. The dermal neurofibromas are associated with a single peripheral nerve, while plexiform neurofibromas are associated with multiple nerve bundles. According to the World Health Organization classification system, dermal and plexiform neurofibromas are grade I tumors.

- localized neurofibroma (sporadic neurofibroma)
- diffuse neurofibroma
- plexiform neurofibroma
- epithelioid neurofibroma

Localized neurofibroma

  • 90% sporadic, 10% in the setting of neurofibromatosis 1 (NF1)
  • most develop between 20-30 years
  • in a major nerve :
    • fusiform expansion
    • confined by the epineurium
  • in a small nerve :
    • extension in soft tissues
    • circumscribed but not encapsulated
  • histology :
    • interlacing bundles of cells with ovoid-to-spindle, often curved, nuclei
    • collagen fibres and myxoid matrix
    • roppey collagen bundles

Plexiform neurofibroma

  • pathognomonic of neurofibromatosis 1 (NF1)
  • develop during early childhood
  • affects large segments of a nerve (aspect of a bag of worms)
  • histology :
    • tortuous enlargement of nerve branches
    • expansion of the endoneurium by myxoid matrix
    • possible nuclear atypia
    • malignant transformation : MPNST

Diffuse neurofibroma

  • children and young adults
  • 10% arise in the setting of neurofibromatosis 1 (NF1)
  • ill-defined infiltration of subcutaneous tissue
    • matrix of fine fibrillary collagen
    • rather fusiform of rounded Schwann cells
    • clusters of Meissner body-like structures

Differential diagnosis

- schwannoma
- malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor
- dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans
- low-grade fibromyxoid sarcoma


- unbalanced t(2;19) (15262441)
- unbalanced t(2;16) (15262441)

Molecular biology

- in neurofibromatosis type 1

  • NF1 chromosomal microdeletion (16830335)
  • mitotic recombination (16830335)
  • chromosome loss with reduplication (16830335)


- Neurofibromas arise from Schwann cells that are homozygous for the inactive version of the NF1 gene. It leads to a complete loss of expression of neurofibromin.


- PathConsult


- De Raedt T, Maertens O, Chmara M, Brems H, Heyns I, Sciot R, Majounie E, Upadhyaya M, De Schepper S, Speleman F, Messiaen L, Vermeesch JR, Legius E. Somatic loss of wild type NF1 allele in neurofibromas: Comparison of NF1 microdeletion and non-microdeletion patients. Genes Chromosomes Cancer. 2006 Oct;45(10):893-904. PMID: 16830335