Aberrant intermediate filament and synaptophysin expression is a frequent event in malignant melanoma: An immunohistochemical study of 73 cases

Ryan C. Romano, Jodi M. Carter, Andrew L. Folpe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Malignant melanomas are known to express vimentin, among other intermediate filaments. Though anomalous keratin expression by malignant melanoma has been reported, its frequency is not well-established and this phenomenon is not well-known. We have seen in consultation a number of malignant melanomas with anomalous expression of keratin, other intermediate filaments, or synaptophysin, and therefore studied a large group of primary and metastatic melanomas to determine the frequency of these events. About 73 cases of malignant melanoma (22 primaries and 51 metastases) from 71 patients (51 male, 20 female; mean 59 years, range 17-87 years) were retrieved from our archives. Prior diagnoses were confirmed by re-review of hematoxylin and eosin sections and relevant (e.g., S100 protein, HMB45, Melan-A, and tyrosinase) immunohistochemical studies. Available sections were immunostained for keratin (OSCAR and AE1/AE3 antibodies), desmin, neurofilament protein, glial fibrillary acidic protein, synaptophysin, and chromogranin A. Not all cases could be tested for all markers. Cases were predominantly epithelioid (48/73, 66%) or spindle cell/desmoplastic (25/73, 34%). S100 protein, Melan-A, HMB45, and tyrosinase were positive in 60/65 (92%), 34/64 (53%), 30/60 (50%), 25/48 (52%) of cases, respectively. All five S100-protein-negative cases expressed at least one of the other melanocytic markers: Melan-A (two of four, 50%), HMB45 (two of three, 67%), and tyrosinase (one of two, 50%). All cases expressed at least one melanocytic marker. Cases were positive for keratin (OSCAR, 17/61, 28%; AE1/AE3, 16/40, 40%), desmin (11/47, 24%), neurofilament protein (5/31, 16%), glial fibrillary acidic protein (3/32, 9%), and synaptophysin (10/34, 29%), typically only in a minority of cells. Chromogranin was negative (0/32, 0%). Altogether 9/73 cases (12%) showed expression of >1 intermediate filament. All S100-protein-negative melanomas showed anomalous intermediate filament expression (keratin-one case, desmin-three cases, neurofilament protein-one case). Anomalous intermediate filament or synaptophysin expression was more common in epithelioid (intermediate filament, 27/48, 56%; synaptophysin, 7/22, 32%) as compared with spindle cell/desmoplastic (intermediate filament, 8/25, 32%; synaptophysin, 3/12, 25%) melanomas. Overall, 48% (35/73) of cases showed anomalous expression of at least one intermediate filament. Anomalous expression of all intermediate filaments and synaptophysin was found in significant subsets of malignant melanoma, representing potentially serious diagnostic pitfalls. While the inclusion of consultation cases may inflate the frequency of these findings in this series, similar findings were also seen in institutional cases. Malignant melanoma showing anomalous intermediate filament and synaptophysin expression may easily be mistaken for carcinomas, rhabdomyosarcomas, and neuroendocrine tumors. Awareness of this phenomenon, careful histopathological evaluation, and an appropriate melanocytic immunohistochemical panel should facilitate the diagnosis of malignant melanoma with unusual immunophenotypes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1033-1042
Number of pages10
JournalModern Pathology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


Dive into the research topics of 'Aberrant intermediate filament and synaptophysin expression is a frequent event in malignant melanoma: An immunohistochemical study of 73 cases'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this