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Polymorphous oligodendroglioma of Zülch revisited: a genetically heterogeneous group of anaplastic gliomas including tumors of bona fide oligodendroglial differentiation.


A polymorphous variant of oligodendroglioma was described by K.J. Zülch half a century ago, and is only very sporadically referred to in the subsequent literature. In particular, no comprehensive analysis with respect to clinical or genetic features of these tumors is available. From a current perspective, the term polymorphous oligodendroglioma (pO) may appear as contradictory in terms, as nuclear monotony is a histomorphological hallmark of oligodendrogliomas. For the purpose of this study, we defined pO as diffusely infiltrating gliomas felt to be of oligodendroglial rather than astrocytic differentiation and characterized by the presence of multinucleate tumor giant cells and/or nuclear pleomorphism. In a total of nine patients, we identified tumors consistent with this working definition. All tumors were high-grade. We characterized these with respect to clinical, histomorphological and genetic features. Despite clinical and genetic heterogeneity, we identified a subset of tumors of bona fide oligodendroglial differentiation as characterized by combined loss of heterozygosity of chromosome arms 1p and 19q (LOH 1p19q). Those tumors that lacked LOH 1p19q showed a high frequency of IDH1 mutations and loss of alpha thalassemia/mental retardation syndrome X-linked gene (ATRX) immunoreactivity, indicating a possible phenotypic convergence of true oligodendrogliomas and gliomas of the alternative lengthening of telomeres (ALT) pathway. p53 alterations were common irrespective of the 1p19q status. Histomorphologically, the tumors featured interspersed bizarre multinucleate giant tumor cells, while the background population varied from monotonous to significantly pleomorphic. Our findings indicate, that a rare polymorphous - or "giant cell" - variant of oligodendroglioma does indeed exist.