The pigmentation of the fungiform papillae of the tongue is a rare idiopathic condition in which only the fungiform papillae appear hyperpigmented. In the absence of any reviews on the subject, we conducted a systematic review of the aetiopathogenesis and pathophysiology of pigmented fungiform papillae (PFP) of the tongue, including its demographic and histopathological features, trying to outline a possible aetiology. The preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses (PRISMA) was performed using PubMed, Scopus, EMBASE databases and manual searches, for publications between January 1974 and July 2022. Inclusion criteria were case reports defining patients’ characteristics, their general medical and dental conditions, histopathological and/or immunohistochemical findings, all with a final definitive diagnosis of PFP. Overall, 51 studies comprising 69 cases of PFP which included histopathological descriptions were reviewed. Prominent features consisted of hyperpigmentation of melanocytes, melanophages, chromatophores, and a lymphocytic infiltrate in the subepidermal area of the fungiform papillae. On special staining, PFP contained melanin, not iron or hemosiderin. On immunohistochemistry, immune-reactive CD3+ T lymphocytes, S-100 and Sox10, but non-immune-reactive melan-A intraepithelial melanocytes were noted in some studies. The presence of hyperpigmented melanocytes and melanophages, with non-immune-reactive melan-A, suggests that PFP are a benign and physiological form of pigmentation. The inflammatory infiltrates described in some papillary lesions could possibly be due to traumatic events during mastication. Nevertheless, the true reasons for the hyperpigmentation of the fungiform papillae are as of yet elusive, and remain to be determined.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)555-569
Number of pages15
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2022


  • fungiform
  • melanocytes
  • papillae
  • pigmentation
  • tongue


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