Plasmacytoid urothelial carcinoma (PC-UC) is an aggressive variant of urothelial carcinoma (UC), characterized by loss of E-cadherin (E-Cad)–mediated intercellular adhesion. Loss of E-Cad by immunohistochemistry can help diagnosis PC-UC; however, sensitivity is limited. Expression of other cadherin-catenin adhesion complex members, that is, p-120 catenin (p-120) and β-catenin (B-Cat), which are diagnostically useful for lobular breast carcinoma, remains unknown in UC.


To determine the utility of p-120 and B-Cat in conventional and variant UC.


E-cadherin, B-Cat, and p-120 immunohistochemistry was performed in 25 conventional UCs and 33 variant UCs, including 22 PC-UCs, 6 sarcomatoid UCs (SUCs), and 5 micropapillary UCs. Membranous staining for all biomarkers was considered normal; however, any cytoplasmic staining or an absence of staining was considered diagnostically abnormal. Next-generation sequencing was performed on 8 PC-UC cases.


E-cadherin, B-Cat, and p-120 showed membranous staining in all conventional and micropapillary UCs. In contrast, most PC-UCs were negative for E-Cad (17 of 22; 77%) with an additional 2 of 22 cases (9%) showing cytoplasmic with partial membranous staining. p-120 catenin demonstrated cytoplasmic or negative staining in 21 of 22 cases (95%). Most SUCs showed an absence of E-Cad (5 of 6; 83%) and cytoplasmic or negative p-120 in 5 of 6 cases (83%). Staining for B-Cat was also abnormal in a subset of PC-UCs and SUCs. Five PC-UC cases that harbored CDH1 gene variants were p-120 cytoplasmic positive.


p-120 catenin is a useful adjunct biomarker to E-Cad in the clinically important distinction of PC-UC and SUC from conventional UC. In particular, the combination of cytoplasmic p-120 and loss of E-Cad is strongly supportive of PC-UC and SUC.

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Author notes

The authors have no relevant financial interest in the products or companies described in this article.