The sensitivity and specificity of "caterpillar bodies" in the differential diagnosis of subepidermal blistering disorders

Maxwell A. Fung, Michael J. Murphy, Diane M. Hoss, Adrienne Berke, Jane M. Grant-Kels

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Caterpillar bodies are eosinophilic, elongated, segmented bodies located within the roofs of blisters and are considered to represent a specific histopathologic feature of porphyric bullous eruptions, including porphyria cutanea tarda and erythropoietic protoporphyria. The possibility that similar or identical bodies may be present in other disorders prompted further study exploring the specificity of caterpillar bodies in the differential diagnosis of subepidermal vesiculobullous disorders. Seventy-six cases exhibiting subepidermal clefting were reviewed by light microscopy. "Classic" caterpillar bodies were present in porphyria cutanea tarda (6 of 14) and 1 case representing either venous stasis-associated bulla or possibly bullosis diabeticorum. Caterpillar body-like clusters were present in porphyria cutanea tarda (5 of 14), erythropoietic protoporphyria (1 of 3), bullous pemphigoid (7 of 24), and junctional or dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa (3 of 5). In some cases, classic caterpillar body and caterpillar body-like clusters coexisted in a blister roof. Caterpillar bodies or caterpillar body-like clusters were not identified in any cases of dermatitis herpetiformis, linear IgA bullous dermatosis, bullous erythema multiforme, epidermolysis bullosa acquisita, or wound-healing reactions. In contrast to caterpillar bodies, caterpillar body-like clusters were negative for PAS or Type IV collagen stains. In conclusion, caterpillar bodies appear to represent a specific feature of porphyria cutanea tarda (specificity, 98%) but were present in less than half of those cases in this study (sensitivity, 43%). Caterpillar body-like clusters are less specific and may be present in porphyria cutanea tarda, erythropoietic protoporphyria, pseudoporphyria, bullous pemphigoid, epidermolysis bullosa, and epidermolysis bullosa acquisita.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)287-290
Number of pages4
JournalAmerican Journal of Dermatopathology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2003


  • Basement membrane
  • Bullous diseases
  • Caterpillar body
  • Porphyria

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Dermatology


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