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Epithelial cysts may develop in virtually any epithelium. All cysts, regardless of their origins, are characterized by epithelial hyperplasia and fluid accumulation. Additional features may include tubular atrophy, basement membrane alterations and association with inflammatory cells. In spite of the intense research effort in recent years directed at uncovering the cellular mechanisms of cyst development and growth, we still do not know the primary events that lead to cyst formation. However, there are at least three candidate mechanisms. These include: 1) increased cell proliferation (epithelial hyperplasia) in the cyst wall, 2) net fluid accumulation in the cyst cavity and 3) alterations of extracellular matrix components linked to cyst formation and growth. This review discusses the evidence to support the role of each mechanism as a possible primary event necessary for cyst initiation and continued enlargement. Present data on the pathogenesis of epithelial cyst formation strongly suggests that no single mechanism, as yet described, can adequately account for all situations of cyst occurrence.

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