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Eur J Histochem. 2011 Jun 7;55(2):e20. doi: 10.4081/ejh.2011.e20.

The usefulness of c-Kit in the immunohistochemical assessment of melanocytic lesions.

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  • 1Department of Cytomorphology, Division of Pathology, University of Cagliari, via Ospedale, 54, 09124 Cagliari, Italy. lucpilloni@tiscali.it


C-Kit (CD117), the receptor for the stem cell factor, a growth factor for melanocyte migration and proliferation, has shown differential immunostaining in various benign and malignant melanocytic lesions. The purpose of this study is to compare c-Kit immunostaining in benign nevi and in primary and metastatic malignant melanomas, to determine whether c-Kit can aid in the differential diagnosis of these lesions. c-Kit immunostaining was performed in 60 cases of pigmented lesions, including 39 benign nevi (5 blue nevi, 5 intradermal nevi, 3 junctional nevi, 15 cases of primary compound nevus, 11 cases of Spitz nevus), 18 cases of primary malignant melanoma and 3 cases of metastatic melanoma. The vast majority of nevi and melanomas examined in this study were positive for c-Kit, with minimal differences between benign and malignant lesions. C-Kit cytoplasmatic immunoreactivity in the intraepidermal proliferating nevus cells, was detected in benign pigmented lesions as well as in malignant melanoma, increasing with the age of patients (P=0.007) in both groups. The patient's age at presentation appeared to be the variable able to cluster benign and malignant pigmented lesions. The percentage of c-Kit positive intraepidermal nevus cells was better associated with age despite other variables (P=0.014). The intensity and percentage of c-Kit positivity in the proliferating nevus cells in the dermis was significantly increased in malignant melanocytic lesions (P=0.015 and P=0.008) compared to benign lesions (compound melanocytic nevi, Spitz nevi, intradermal nevi, blue nevi). Immunostaning for c-Kit in metastatic melanomas was negative. Interestingly in two cases of melanoma occurring on a pre-existent nevus, the melanoma tumor cells showed strong cytoplasmatic and membranous positivity for c-kit, in contrast with the absence of any immunoreactivity in pre-existent intradermal nevus cells. C-Kit does not appear to be a strong immunohistochemical marker for distinguishing melanoma from melanocytic nevi, if we consider c-Kit expression in intraepidermal proliferating cells. The c-Kit expression in proliferating melanocytes in the dermis could help in the differential diagnosis between a superficial spreading melanoma (with dermis invasion) and a compound nevus or an intradermal nevus. Finally, c-Kit could be a good diagnostic tool for distinguishing benign compound nevi from malignant melanocytic lesions with dermis invasion and to differentiate metastatic melanoma from primary melanoma.

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