Typically positive for:

S-100. Positive in 95% of melanomas. Usually negative in signet-ring cell and rhabdoid melanomas. Usually positive in desmoplastic malignant melanomas.

NKIC3. Slightly more specific than S-100 but stains many non-melanocytic tumours.

HMB-45 Stains between 90% and 100% of primary melanomas, 80% or recurrent and metastatic melanomas and a lower proportion of spindle cell melanomas. Stains only minority of cases of desmoplastic malignant melanomas.

Melan-A. Rarely stains desmoplastic malignant melanomas.

Anti-tyrosinase. Sensitivity and specificity not yet adequately assessed, but appears to be less sensitive than S-100 and more sensitive than HMB-452. Stains only minority of cases of desmoplastic malignant melanomas.

PNL2: a initial report shows it is of similar sensitivity to other marker.s

MAGE expression by melanocytic cells appears to be restricted to malignant melanoma, with negativity in nevi6,7. MAGE-1 is less sensitive than are S-100, tyrosinase, Melan-A and HMB-4510: its has been claimed that expression shows an inverse relationship with expression of HMB-45 in non-desmoplastic melanomas and may therefore be useful in S-100 positive / HMB-45 negative tumours5; others have not reproduced this10. Its sensitivity in desmoplastic melanoma is lower. MAGE-3 has a low sensitivity of 25%6 to 40%7.

Vimentin: least useful; stains a wide variety of tumours

NSE: least useful; stains a wide variety of tumours.

CD117 tends to stain the in-situ component strongly, with loss of staining in deep dermal and nodular components4.

MDA-7 (melanoma differentiation associated gene 7) is a newly-described putative tumour suppressor gene sharing homology with IL-10. Its protein product can be detected by immunohistochemistry. It is highly expressed in normal melanocytes and benign nevi. Some initial studies show loss in thick melanomas. This has not been confirmed, but it is downregulated in metastatic melanoma. Its usefulness remains to be elucidated8.


Studies of conventional metastatic malignant melanomas gave the following comparison between melanoma markers:





Melan A





4% (12/266)1

14% (36/266)1

7% (19/266)1

12% (33/266)1

12% (31/266)1



<10% of tumour cells

2% (2/266)1

20% (52/266)1

3% (8/266)1

10% (26/266)1

3% (9/266)1



10% to 30% of tumour cells

4% (10/266)1

11% (30/266)1

7% (18/266)1

17% (445/266)1

15% (39/266)1



>30% of tumour cells

90% (240/266)1

55% (148/266)1

82% (221/226)1

61% (163/266)1

70% (187/266)1



strongly positive








Studies have been made of the value of the other markers in those melanomas which are negative for HMB-45

Melanoma markers have been compared in a series of vaginal, ovarian and sinonasal melanomas

Melan-A (clone A103) and MART-1 (clone M2-7C10) appear to be superior to either S-100 or HMB-45 for the diagnosis of micrometastases in sentienl lymph nodes3. However, a cocktail of HMB-45, Tyrosinase and Melan A / Mart-1 may optimise sensitivity, equal to that of S-100 but with superior specificity, particularly for the assessment of sentinel lymph nodes9.


Desmoplastic melanomas pose a particular diagnostic problem.


Aberrant immunophenotypes:

Cytokeratins. Most frequently positive with Cam5.2, in up to 10% of melanomas.

CEA. Usually seen with polyclonal antibodies.

EMA. Unusual in conventional melanomas, but has been reported in 43% of desmoplastic malignant melanomas.

Desmin. Rarely positive.

SMA. Very rare in conventional melanomas and non-desmoplastic spindle cell melanomas, but is commonly seen in desmoplastic malignant melanomas

NFP. Rarely positive.

GFAP. Has been seen in desmoplastic malignant melanomas.



Factor XIIIa may be positive in desmoplastic malignant melanomas.


Differential diagnosis

Benign tumours

benign fibrous histiocytoma

cellular neurothekeoma





squamous cell carcinoma
signet ring cell carcinoma
extramammary Paget's disease
sebaceous carcinoma
large-cell undifferentiated carcinoma
clear-cell carcinoma
small cell carcinoma
metaplastic carcinoma with bone and cartilage formation

Neuroendocrine tumours

Merkel cell carcinoma


olfactory neuroblastoma




malignant fibrous histiocytoma
atypical fibroxanthoma

malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumour

synovial sarcoma

epithelioid sarcoma

epithelioid angiosarcoma
Kaposi's sarcoma

interdigitating dendritic cell tumour



alveolar soft part sarcoma

extraskeletal Ewing's sarcoma / peripheral neuroectodermal tumour

gastrointestinal autonomic neuronal tumour (plexosarcoma)

Malignant lymphomas

anaplastic large-cell Ki-1 lymphoma

Germ cell tumours


Banerjee SS, Harris M. Morphological and immunohistophenotypic variations in malignant melanoma. Histopathology 2000. 36: 387-402.

1Miettinen M et al. Microphthalmia transcription factor in the immunohistochemical diagnosis of metastatic melanoma: comparison with four other melanoma markers. Am J Surg Pathol 2001;25:205-211.

2Clarkson KS et al. The usefulness of tyrosinase in the immunohistochemical assessment of melanocytic lesions: a comparison of the novel T311 antibody (anti-tyrosinase) with S-100, HMB-45 and A103 (anti-melan-A). J Clin Pathol 2001;54:196-200.

3Shidham, V. B., Qi, D. Y., Acker, S., et al. Evaluation of micrometastases in sentinel lymph nodes of cutaneous melanoma: higher diagnostic accuracy with Melan-A and MART-1 compared with S-100 protein and HMB-45. Am J Surg Pathol 2001;25:1039-1046.

4Gibson, P. C., Cooper, K. CD117 (KIT): a diverse protein with selective applications in surgical pathology. Adv Anat Pathol 2002;9:65-69.

5Xu, X., Chu, A. Y., Pasha, T. L., Elder, D. E., Zhang, P. J. Immunoprofile of MITF, tyrosinase, melan-A, and MAGE-1 in HMB45- negative melanomas. Am J Surg Pathol 2002;26:82-87.

6Hofbauer, G. F., Schaefer, C., Noppen, C., Boni, R., Kamarashev, J., Nestle, F. O., Spagnoli, G. C., Dummer, R. MAGE-3 immunoreactivity in formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded primary and metastatic melanoma: frequency and distribution. Am J Pathol 1997;151:1549-1553.

7Busam, K. J., Iversen, K., Berwick, M., Spagnoli, G. C., Old, L. J., Jungbluth, A. A. Immunoreactivity with the anti-MAGE antibody 57B in malignant melanoma: frequency of expression and correlation with prognostic parameters. Mod Pathol 2000;13:459-465.

8Volk AL, Siegal GP. MDA-7: a novel prognostic marker. Advances in Anatomic Pathology 2002;9323.xxxxxxxxxxx

9Cook, M. G., M. A. Green, et al. (2003). "The development of optimal pathological assessment of sentinel lymph nodes for melanoma." J Pathol 200(3): 314-9.

10Gajjar, N. A., A. J. Cochran, et al. (2004). "Is MAGE-1 Expression in Metastatic Malignant Melanomas Really Helpful?" Am J Surg Pathol 28(7): 883-8.


This page last revised 17.3.2005.