Which histological findings are characteristic of oral lichen planus (OLP)?

Updated: Sep 15, 2020
  • Author: Jaisri R Thoppay, DDS, MBA, MS; Chief Editor: Jeff Burgess, DDS, MSD  more...
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Consistent findings include a bandlike subepithelial mononuclear infiltrate consisting of T cells and histiocytes, increased numbers of intraepithelial T cells, and degenerating basal keratinocytes that form colloid (Civatte, hyaline, cytoid) bodies, which appear as homogenous eosinophilic globules. Variable findings include parakeratosis, acanthosis, and sawtooth rete pegs.

Degeneration of the basal keratinocytes and disruption of the anchoring elements of the epithelial basement membrane and basal keratinocytes (eg, hemidesmosomes, filaments, fibrils) weakens the epithelial-connective tissue interface. As a result, histologic clefts (ie, Max-Joseph spaces) may form, and blisters on the oral mucosa (bullous lichen planus) may be seen at clinical examination. B cells and plasma cells are uncommon findings.

Immunoglobulin or complement deposits are not a consistent feature of oral lichen planus, although fibrin is deposited in a shaggy linear pattern in the basement membrane zone. Colloid bodies contain fibrin, immunoglobulin M (IgM), C3, C4, and keratin. Laminin and fibronectin staining may be absent in areas of heavy fibrin deposition and colloid body formation. This finding suggests basement membrane damage in these areas.

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