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CD99 and cytokeratin-20 in small-cell and basaloid tumors of the skin.

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Division of Surgical Pathology, Washington University Medical Center, St. Louis, Missouri, USA.


Although it is classically a deep soft-tissue tumor of childhood, primitive neuroectodermal tumor (PNET) can occur at any age and may occasionally involve cutaneous sites. Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) and basaloid neoplasms of cutaneous adnexa are the principal diagnostic alternatives to that tumor. The common expression of CD99 in PNET and cytokeratin-20 (CK20) in MCC suggests that these markers may be of value in this diagnostic setting, but they have not been rigorously examined in other small-cell and basaloid lesions of the skin. Accordingly, we evaluated CD99 and CK20 reactivity in formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded sections of 30 MCC, five cutaneous metastases of pulmonary small-cell neuroendocrine carcinomas, 10 primary cutaneous adnexal carcinomas with basaloid features, 18 benign basaloid adnexal neoplasms of the skin (nine spiradenomas and nine cylindromas), and two cutaneous PNETs, using a standard immunohistologic technique and microwave-mediated epitope retrieval. Of the 30 MCC, 12 showed crisp membrane staining for CD99. Among the remaining tumors, only the two PNETs were positive for that marker. Although the majority of MCCs did not label for CD99, the pattern of reactivity in positive cases was indistinguishable from that observed in PNETs. Eighteen of 27 MCCs that were stained for CK20 were reactive for that protein, in contrast to metastatic small cell carcinomas, cutaneous PNETs, and appendageal skin tumors, which were uniformly negative for this marker. However, a subset of nine tumors, which were most consistent with MCC on clinical grounds, was CD99 positive and CK20 negative. Hence, reliance on CD99 alone as a diagnostic marker for PNET in this context cannot be recommended. Rather, careful assessment of the clinical presentation, together with extended immunophenotyping that includes other lineage markers and, when possible, cytogenetic analysis for characteristic chromosomal aberrations, remains the best means of separating MCC from PNET. Finally, the lack of CD99 reactivity in basaloid adnexal neoplasms of the skin suggests a utility in their differential diagnosis from cutaneous tumors with neuroendocrine or neuroectodermal differentiation.

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