The histopathological approach to inflammatory bowel disease: A practice guide

Cord Langner*, Fernando Magro, Ann Driessen, Arzu Ensari, Gerassimos J. Mantzaris, Vincenzo Villanacci, Gabriel Becheanu, Paula Borralho Nunes, Gieri Cathomas, Walter Fries, Anne Jouret-Mourin, Claudia Mescoli, Giovanni De Petris, Carlos A. Rubio, Neil A. Shepherd, Michael Vieth, Rami Eliakim, Karel Geboes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

101 Scopus citations


Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs) are lifelong disorders predominantly present in developed countries. In their pathogenesis, an interaction between genetic and environmental factors is involved. This practice guide, prepared on behalf of the European Society of Pathology and the European Crohn's and Colitis Organisation, intends to provide a thorough basis for the histological evaluation of resection specimens and biopsy samples from patients with ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease. Histopathologically, these diseases are characterised by the extent and the distribution of mucosal architectural abnormality, the cellularity of the lamina propria and the cell types present, but these features frequently overlap. If a definitive diagnosis is not possible, the term indeterminate colitis is used for resection specimens and the term inflammatory bowel disease unclassified for biopsies. Activity of disease is reflected by neutrophil granulocyte infiltration and epithelial damage. The evolution of the histological features that are useful for diagnosis is time- and disease-activity dependent: early disease and long-standing disease show different microscopic aspects. Likewise, the histopathology of childhood-onset IBD is distinctly different from adult-onset IBD. In the differential diagnosis of severe colitis refractory to immunosuppressive therapy, reactivation of latent cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection should be considered and CMV should be tested for in all patients. Finally, patients with longstanding IBD have an increased risk for the development of adenocarcinoma. Dysplasia is the universally used marker of an increased cancer risk, but inter-observer agreement is poor for the categories low-grade dysplasia and indefinite for dysplasia. A diagnosis of dysplasia should not be made by a single pathologist but needs to be confirmed by a pathologist with expertise in gastrointestinal pathology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)511-527
Number of pages17
JournalVirchows Archiv
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Consensus
  • Crohn's disease
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Practice guidelines
  • Ulcerative colitis


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