Five tumors associated with the complete glucagonoma syndrome, as well as a series of glucagon-cell adenomas from three patients without this syndrome, were investigated by light and electron microscopy and by immunofluorescence.
All tumors associated with the syndrome were large, from 3 to 35 cm along the major axis, and three of them were proved to be malignant. No common histologic arrangement of tumor cells was apparent for the five neoplasms examined. Immunofluorescent staining for glucagon and glicentin was carried out: while most cells were negative, a varying number of scattered cells were positive with both antisera in all tumors except one; three tumors contained more glicentin- than glucagon-immunoreactive cells. Moreover, three tumors were multihormonal, with cells positive for pancreatic polypeptide and/or insulin. Ultrastruc-turally, the secretory granules of cells from these tumors were not typical of those found in A-cells from adult human islets.
The glucagon-cell tumors from patients without the syndrome were benign, usually multiple, and were small, with diameters from 0.5 mm to 1 cm. In most cases, the cells from these neoplasms arranged in a characteristic pattern (ribbonlike or “gyriform”). In most tumors, the majority of cells showed both glucagon and glicentin immunofluorescence and the ultra-structural appearance of their secretory granules was similar to that of normal islet A-cells. From the morphologic point of view, therefore, cells from tumors not associated with the glucagonoma syndrome resemble normal glucagon cells more closely than those from tumors associated with the syndrome.