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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Sujit Routray, M.D. [2] Homa Najafi, M.D.[3]

Synonyms and Keywords: Pineocytomas; Pinealocytoma; Pinealocytomas; PC; Pineal gland tumor; Brain tumor


Pineocytoma is a benign, slowly growing pineal parenchymal tumor. The pineal gland, in the brain secretes melatonin which regulates sleep cycle . Pineocytomas most often occur in adults as a solid mass, although they may appear to have fluid-filled (cystic) spaces on images of the brain. Signs and symptoms of pineocytomas include headaches, nausea, vision abnormalities, and Parinaud syndrome. Pineocytomas are usually slow-growing and rarely spread to other parts of the body. Treatment includes surgery to remove the pineocytoma; most of these tumors do not regrow (recur) after surgery.[1]


The 2007 WHO classification of central nervous system tumors divides pineal gland tumors into four groups:

According to the WHO classification of tumors of the central nervous system, pineocytoma is classified into a WHO grade I tumor.[2]



Gross Pathology

On gross pathology, pineocytoma is characterized by solid, sometimes with focal areas of cystic change, gray, well-circumscribed mass with or without hemorrhage.[3][4]

Microscopic Pathology

On microscopic histopathological analysis, pineocytoma is characterized by:[5]

  • Cytologically benign cells (uniform size of nuclei, regular nuclear membrane, light chromatin)
  • Pineocytomatous/neurocytic rosette, which is an irregular circular/flower-like arrangement of cells with a large meshwork of fibers (neuropil) at the center.
Intermediate magnification micrograph of a pineocytoma. HPS stain.[6]


Pineocytoma is demonstrated by positivity to tumor markers such as:[7][8][9][10]

Differentiating Pineocytoma from other Diseases

Pineocytoma must be differentiated from:[11]

For differentiating pineal gland tumors from other cranial tumors click here

For differentiating among different types of pineal gland tumors click here



  • Pineocytoma constitutes approximately 45% of the pineal parenchymal tumors.[10][12]
  • Pineocytoma constitutes approximately 0.4 - 1% of the intracranial neoplasms.[13]


  • Pineocytoma is a rare disease that tends to affect all age groups, most commonly in the second decade of life.[12]

Natural History, Complication and Prognosis

Natural History

If left untreated, patients with pineocytoma may progress to develop seizures, obstructive hydrocephalus, local recurrence, and CSF metastasis.[14][15]


Common complications of pineocytoma include:[15][10]


  • Prognosis is generally excellent, and the 5-year survival rate of patients with pineocytoma is approximately 86%.[15]
  • Pineocytoma has the most favorable prognosis among all the pineal gland tumors.[16]
  • Clark et al. after performing a systematic review of the literature reported that the 1- and 5-year progression free survival (PFS) rates for patients that underwent resection versus the biopsy group were 97% and 90%, and 89% and 75% respectively. The 1- and 5-year PFS rates for the gross total resection group versus the group undergoing subtotal resection combined with radiation therapy were 100% and 94%, and 100% and 84% respectively.[17]



When evaluating a patient for pineocytoma, you should take a detailed history of the presenting symptom (onset, duration, and progression), other associated symptoms, and a thorough family and past medical history review.


  • The clinical presentation of pineocytoma is mainly from the obstructive hydrocephalus secondary to compression of the tectum of the midbrain and obstruction of the aqueduct.[14]
    • Pineal tumors cause neurologic dysfunction by direct invasion, compression, or obstruction of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) flow.
    • The rate of tumor growth determines the rapidity of symptom onset and is an important prognostic factor.
  • Pineal gland tumors share some common clinical and radiographic features based upon their anatomic location. Symptoms of pineocytoma include:
Symtpoms Signs
Headaches Papilledema
Vision abnormalities Ataxia
Nausea and vomiting Loss of upward gaze
Impaired ambulation Tremor
Altered pupillary reflexes
Hyperactive deep tendon reflexes


The staging work-up for pineal tumors include

  • Contrast-enhanced MRI of the brain and the entire spine.
  • The cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) for cytological examination.

Physical Examination

Compression of the superior colliculi can lead to a characteristic gaze palsy, known as Parinaud syndrome. Common physical examination findings of pineocytoma include:[14]


  • Bulging soft spots (fontanelles)
  • Eyes that are constantly looking down (sunsetting sign)
  • Deficiency in upward-gaze
  • Pupillary light-near dissociation (pupils respond to near stimuli but not light)
  • Convergence-retraction nystagmus


Laboratory Diagnosis

There are no specific laboratory findings for pineocytoma. However, the following findings are of significant

  • Both serum and CSF should be assayed for alpha-fetoprotein and beta human chorionic gonadotropin (beta-hCG) to help diagnose a germ cell tumor.
  • Immunohistochemistry may be of value in detecting these markers or placental alkaline phosphatase.


  • Head CT scan may be diagnostic of pineocytoma.
  • Findings on CT scan suggestive of pineocytoma include a mass of intermediate density similar to the adjacent brain with peripheral calcifications.[18]
Case courtesy of A.Prof Frank Gaillard, <a href=""></a>. From the case <a href="">rID: 2647</a>


  • Brain MRI may be diagnostic of pineocytoma.
  • Features on MRI suggestive of pineocytoma include:[18]
A large and ill-defined mass is present in the region of the pineal gland, demonstrating contrast enhancement.[19]
MRI component Findings


  • Isointense to brain parenchyma


  • Solid components are isointense to brain parenchyma
  • Areas of cystic change
  • Sometimes the majority of the tumor is cystic

T1 with gadolinium contrast

  • Solid components vividly enhance

Other Diagnostic Studies

Stereotactic biopsy

  • A direct, visually guided biopsy of the pineal gland mass with open or neuroendoscopic surgery has been preferred due to concerns about injury to the deep cerebral veins.
  • An open procedure also allows CSF to be obtained for
    • Tumor marker studies
    • Permits direct visualization of the third ventricle for staging purposes
    • Sllows a third ventriculostomy to be performed for CSF diversion if needed.
  • The diagnostic yield of stereotactic biopsy ranges from 94 to 100 percent.
  • If the biopsy is nondiagnostic, equivocal, or suggests a benign tumor such as mature teratoma or meningioma, surgery is recommended to establish a definitive diagnosis or to identify focal areas of malignant disease


  • The mainstay of therapy for pineocytoma is surgery (gross total or subtotal resection).[15][16][17]
  • The treatment of PPTs must be guided by the histologic sub type can be assessed by tissue diagnosis
  • Empiric therapy is recommended in nongerminomatous GCT in a patient with characteristic neuroimaging studies and elevated serum or CSF levels of the tumor markers alpha-fetoprotein and/or the beta subunit of human chorionic gonadotropin.
  • Empiric therapy for patient with germinoma can be initiated based upon the imaging presence of “bi focal” tumors, CSF beta-hCG <50 mIU/mL, and no elevation of alpha-fetoprotein.
Management Options of Penial Gland tumors
CSF diversion
  • The optimal surgical strategy to treat acute hydrocephalus in patients with pineal tumors is uncertain.
  • CSF diversion (ventriculoperitoneal [VP] shunt or third ventriculostomy may be necessary in symptomatic patients, although debulking surgery may obviate the need for this procedure
  • When CSF diversion is necessary, endoscopic third ventriculostomy can be carried out at the same time as the biopsy and is preferred over VP shunts, which can be complicated by infection, shunt malfunction, subdural hematoma, and rarely, tumor seeding
Surgical resection
  • Some series report long-term survival with surgery alone, even in patients with pineoblastomas.
  • Indeed, for pineoblastomas, gross total surgical resection appears to correlate with improved survival.
  • Patients with symptomatic recurrent pineocytomas should also be considered for surgical resection of the lesion
  • Postoperative adjuvant RT is frequently (but not universally) recommended, and local control is dose-dependent.
  • The incidence of leptomeningeal recurrence was significantly lower among patients receiving CSI compared with those who did not.
  • The five-year survival rates were 86 and 49 percent for pineocytomas and non-pineocytoma PPTs, respectively.
  • Adjuvant RT is not universally recommended after gross total resection of a pineocytoma
Stereotactic radiosurgery
  • Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) is emerging as a useful treatment alternative for pineocytomas, although experience is limited.
  • The precise radiation fields that are defined by MRI or CT-computerized treatment planning minimize damage to the surrounding brain, and the risks of general anesthesia and craniotomy are avoided.
  • SRS is increasingly being used to treat pineal region tumors, either as an additional therapy after conventional treatments or as a primary treatment.
  • Due to the low rate of side effects, IRS may develop into an attractive alternative to microsurgery in de novo diagnosed pineocytomas. In malignant PPTs, IRS may be routinely applied in a multimodality treatment schedule supplementary to conventional irradiation.
Chemotherapy as part of multimodality therapy
  • The similarity of pineoblastomas to medulloblastomas in terms of their clinical behavior and tendency for leptomeningeal seeding has led to the use of similar chemotherapy regimens in patients with pineoblastoma as part of a multimodality approach.
  • Chemotherapy has been used to delay radiation therapy in very young children, for whom the long-term neurocognitive and developmental side effects of craniospinal irradiation (CSI) are a major concern.
  • The importance of radiation therapy as a component of the initial treatment of supratentorial primitive neuroectodermal tumors (PNETs) is also supported by the German HIT-SKK87 and HIT-SKK92 protocols, as well as the Canadian pediatric brain tumor protocol
  • Successful treatment of pineocytomas requires surgery with or without RT, while the best results with pineoblastomas are seen with multimodality approaches that include chemotherapy.
  • The main goal of open surgery on pineocytoma is the complete tumor removal with minimal morbidity, whenever possible. However, even if gross total excision cannot be achieved, establishment of an accurate diagnosis, maximal cytoreduction, and restoration of the CSF pathway may be achieved.
  • Radiotherapy administration to subtotally resected tumor is not associated with an increase in either tumor control or survival.[17]
  • Stereotactically guided iodine-125 seed implantation has been proposed as a potential alternative to microsurgery in de novo diagnosed pineocytomas, since it was proven efficient and safe.
  • Patients with pineocytoma will develop hydrocephalus in majority of the cases and they will require CSF diversion. Ventriculo-peritoneal (V-P) shunt placement is a viable option with low morbidity and mortality rate. However, shunt malfunction in this population is as high as 20%. In addition, tumor metastasis through a CSF shunt has been reported. Endoscopic third ventriculostomy (ETVC) is an alternative option, which also permits a biopsy of the tumor in the same procedure. Ahn et al. reported that the biopsy samples, obtained in the lateral ventricle or pineal region, were more favorable towards a successful diagnosis than those in the thalamus or tectal region. Neuroendoscopic biopsy procedures have been proven safe with low complication rates.[17]


  1. Pineocytoma. Wikipedia 2015. Accessed on November 18, 2015
  2. General feature of pineocytoma. Libre pathology 2015. Accessed on November 18, 2015
  3. Pathology and radiographic features of pineocytoma. Dr Bruno Di Muzio and Dr Frank Gaillard et al. Radiopaedia 2015. Accessed on November 18, 2015
  4. Gross description of pineocytoma. Pathology Outlines 2015. Accessed on November 20, 2015
  5. Microscopic features of pineocytoma. Libre Pathology 2015. Accessed on November 18, 2015
  6. Microscopic images of pineocytoma. Libre Pathology 2015. Accessed on November 18, 2015
  7. Microscopic description of pineocytoma causing hydrocephalus. Dr Frank Gaillard. Radiopaedia 2015. Accessed on November 20, 2015
  8. Histology of pineocytoma. Dr Frank Gaillard. Radiopaedia 2015. Accessed on November 20, 2015
  9. IHC features of pineocytoma. Libre Pathology 2015. Accessed on November 20, 2015
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Hirato, Junko; Nakazato, Yoichi (2001). Journal of Neuro-Oncology. 54 (3): 239–249. doi:10.1023/A:1012721723387. ISSN 0167-594X. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  11. Differential diagnosis of pineal region mass. Dr Henry Knipe and Dr Frank Gaillard et al. Radiopaedia 2015. Accessed on November 20, 2015
  12. 12.0 12.1 Epidemiology of pineocytoma. Dr Bruno Di Muzio and Dr Frank Gaillard et al. Radiopaedia 2015. Accessed on November 20, 2015
  13. Clark, Aaron J.; Sughrue, Michael E.; Aranda, Derick; Parsa, Andrew T. (2011). "Contemporary Management of Pineocytoma". Neurosurgery Clinics of North America. 22 (3): 403–407. doi:10.1016/ ISSN 1042-3680.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Clinical presentation of pineocytoma. Dr Bruno Di Muzio and Dr Frank Gaillard et al. Radiopaedia 2015. Accessed on November 20, 2015
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 Treatment and prognosis of pineocytoma. Dr Bruno Di Muzio and Dr Frank Gaillard et al. Radiopaedia 2015. Accessed on November 20, 2015
  16. 16.0 16.1 Deshmukh, Vivek R.; Smith, Kris A.; Rekate, Harold L.; Coons, Stephen; Spetzler, Robert F. (2004). "Diagnosis and Management of Pineocytomas". Neurosurgery. 55 (2): 349–357. doi:10.1227/01.NEU.0000129479.70696.D2. ISSN 0148-396X.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 Alexiou, George A (2012). "Management of pineal region tumours in children". Journal of Solid Tumors. 2 (2). doi:10.5430/jst.v2n2p15. ISSN 1925-4075.
  18. 18.0 18.1 Radiographic features of pineocytoma. Dr Bruno Di Muzio and Dr Frank Gaillard et al. Radiopeadia 2015. Accessed on November 20, 2015
  19. Image courtesy of Dr. Frank Gaillard. Radiopaedia (original file here). Creative Commons BY-SA-NC