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Oral Lichen Planus Workup

  • Author: Philip B Sugerman, MDS, PhD; Chief Editor: William D James, MD  more...
Updated: Sep 21, 2015

Laboratory Studies

The history, typical oral lesions, and skin involvement are usually sufficient to diagnose oral lichen planus (OLP), though laboratory studies and biopsy may be required (see Procedures).

Direct immunofluorescence testing can help in distinguishing erosive or the rare bullous oral lichen planus from pemphigus vulgaris, benign mucous membrane pemphigoid, dermatitis herpetiformis, and linear immunoglobulin A (IgA) disease. The most characteristic feature of oral lichen planus is shaggy linear fibrin distribution.

Some studies show an increased incidence of C albicans infection in patients with oral lichen planus. Periodic acid-Schiff (PAS) staining of biopsy specimens and candidal cultures or smears may be performed. However, these tests may be of limited clinical value because oral C albicans is present in more than 70% of the population. The presence of C albicans and the oral load of this organism do not aid either the diagnosis or the treatment of oral lichen planus.


Other Tests

Skin patch testing may be helpful in identifying a contact allergy in some patients with oral lichen planus.[24] The current recommendation is to use a standard series; a dental prosthesis series; and a metal salt series that includes gold, mercury, and palladium salts as well as other salts of metals used in dental restorations. Late readings, or those obtained at 10 and 17 days after the application of the skin patch, may be required.

The most common allergy is related to mercury contained in amalgam restorations. Compared with patients with lesions in other locations, patients with lesions near the amalgam restoration have a higher rate of positive patch test results to mercury. When the amalgam restorations are removed, patients with a positive result have a higher remission rates (47-100% depending on the study) than that of patients without this positive result.

Although the assessment of hepatic function in the treatment of otherwise healthy southern European and Japanese patients with oral lichen planus may be warranted, similar screening in British and American patients appears to be of limited benefit. Formal studies are still ongoing. Consider hepatic biochemical testing only when patients have proven oral lichen planus and suspected liver disease.



Biopsy may be required to exclude malignancy or to differentiate between oral lichen planus and other white or chronic ulcerative oral lesions, including reactive keratoses, chronic hyperplastic candidosis, epithelial dysplasia, discoid lupus erythematosus, gastrointestinal disease (including oral Crohn disease), and anemic states.


Histologic Findings

Histopathologic examination of lesional tissue is the most relevant investigation in cases of oral lichen planus.

Consistent findings include a bandlike subepithelial mononuclear infiltrate consisting of T cells and histiocytes, increased numbers of intraepithelial T cells, and degenerating basal keratinocytes that form colloid (Civatte, hyaline, cytoid) bodies, which appear as homogenous eosinophilic globules. Variable findings include parakeratosis, acanthosis, and sawtooth rete pegs.

Degeneration of the basal keratinocytes and disruption of the anchoring elements of the epithelial basement membrane and basal keratinocytes (eg, hemidesmosomes, filaments, fibrils) weakens the epithelial-connective tissue interface. As a result, histologic clefts (ie, Max-Joseph spaces) may form, and blisters on the oral mucosa (bullous lichen planus) may be seen at clinical examination. B cells and plasma cells are uncommon findings.

Immunoglobulin or complement deposits are not a consistent feature of oral lichen planus, although fibrin is deposited in a shaggy linear pattern in the basement membrane zone. Colloid bodies contain fibrin, immunoglobulin M (IgM), C3, C4, and keratin. Laminin and fibronectin staining may be absent in areas of heavy fibrin deposition and colloid body formation. This finding suggests basement membrane damage in these areas.

In oral lichen planus, electron microscopy is used principally as a research tool. The ultrastructure of the colloid bodies suggests that they are apoptotic keratinocytes, and recent studies using the end-labeling method revealed DNA fragmentation in these cells. Electron microscopy shows breaks, branches, and duplications of the epithelial basement membrane in oral lichen planus.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Philip B Sugerman, MDS, PhD Senior Clinical Science Manager, Abbott Immunology, Abbott Laboratories

Philip B Sugerman, MDS, PhD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, International Association for Dental Research

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Stephen R Porter, MD, PhD FDS RCS, FDS RSE, Professor of Oral Medicine, University College London; Academic Head, Director of Research Strategy, Oral Medicine/Special Needs Unit, Division of Maxillofacial Diagnostic, Medical and Surgical Sciences, Eastman Dental Institute for Oral Health Sciences

Stephen R Porter, MD, PhD is a member of the following medical societies: British Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, Royal College of Surgeons of England, Royal Society of Medicine, Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Michael J Wells, MD, FAAD Associate Professor, Department of Dermatology, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, Paul L Foster School of Medicine

Michael J Wells, MD, FAAD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Dermatology, American Medical Association, Texas Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Drore Eisen, MD, DDS Consulting Staff, Department of Dermatology, Dermatology Research Associates of Cincinnati

Drore Eisen, MD, DDS is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology, American Academy of Oral Medicine, American Dental Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

William D James, MD Paul R Gross Professor of Dermatology, Vice-Chairman, Residency Program Director, Department of Dermatology, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

William D James, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology, Society for Investigative Dermatology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Gregory J Raugi, MD, PhD Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Dermatology, University of Washington at Seattle School of Medicine; Chief, Dermatology Section, Primary and Specialty Care Service, Veterans Administration Medical Center of Seattle

Gregory J Raugi, MD, PhD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Plaquelike oral lichen planus on the buccal mucosa on the left side.
Reticular oral lichen planus on the buccal mucosa on the left side.
Ulcerative oral lichen planus on the dorsum of the tongue.
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