Gastrointestinal stromal tumor or smooth muscle tumor (GIST) is the designation for a major subset of gastrointestinal mesenchymal tumors that histologically, immunohistochemically, and genetically differ from typical leiomyomas, leiomyosarcomas, and schwannomas. Because GISTs, like the interstitial cells of Cajal, the gastrointestinal pacemaker cells, express CD117 (c-kit protein), the origin of GISTs from the interstitial cells of Cajal has been recently proposed. Comparison of GISTs primary in the omentum and mesentery to GISTs primary in the tubular gastrointestinal tract is of particular diagnostic and histogenetic interest in view of the possible similarity of these tumors with the GIST group. In this study, we analyzed 14 omental and 12 mesenteric primary mesenchymal tumors representing smooth muscle tumors or GISTs. These tumors were phenotypically compared with gastric and small intestinal GISTs, leiomyomas of the esophagus, and leiomyosarcomas of the retroperitoneum. Most (13 of 14) omental and mesenteric (10 of 12) tumors showed histologic features similar to GISTs with elongated spindle cells or epithelioid cells with high cellularity; most of these tumors showed low mitotic activity. Omental and mesenteric GISTs were typically positive for CD117 and less consistently for CD34. They often showed alpha-smooth muscle actin reactivity but were virtually negative for desmin and S-100 protein. One omental and two mesenteric tumors showed features of leiomyosarcoma with ovoid, less elongated nuclei, cytoplasmic eosinophilia; all these tumors had significant mitotic activity. These tumors were positive for alpha-smooth muscle actin and two of them for desmin, but all were negative for CD34 and CD117, similar to retroperitoneal leiomyosarcomas. Tumor-related mortality occurred in the group of mesenteric GISTs, but not in the group of omental GISTs. In contrast, all three patients with a true leiomyosarcoma of the omentum or mesentery had documented liver metastases or died of tumor. In summary, we show that tumors phenotypically identical with GISTs occur as primary tumors in the omentum and mesentery. The occurrence of CD117-positive tumors outside the gastrointestinal tract militates against an origin of these tumors exclusively from the interstitial cells of Cajal.