The role of desmin and N-cadherin in effusion cytology: a comparative study using established markers of mesothelial and epithelial cells

Am J Surg Pathol. 2001 Nov;25(11):1405-12. doi: 10.1097/00000478-200111000-00008.


The objective of the present study was to analyze the role of the mesothelial markers desmin and N-cadherin in the diagnostic panel of serous effusions. A total of 181 pleural and peritoneal effusions consisted of 101 cases cytologically diagnosed as malignant (89 carcinomas, 12 mesotheliomas), 78 benign, and 2 inconclusive specimens. All specimens were immunostained using 11 antibodies, against epithelial membrane antigen, Ber-EP4, carcinoembryonic antigen, E-cadherin, CA 125, N-cadherin, desmin, calretinin, p53, vimentin, and CD45. After evaluation of immunocytochemistry results, 110 specimens were diagnosed as malignant (98 carcinomas, 12 mesotheliomas) and 71 as benign (56 cellular, 15 paucicellular). The presence of desmin was detected in benign mesothelial cells in 47 of 56 (84%) reactive cellular specimens compared with 1 of 12 (8%) malignant mesotheliomas and 2 of 98 (2%) carcinomas. N-cadherin was expressed in 48 of 56 (86%) reactive cases, 12 of 12 (100%) mesotheliomas, and 47 of 98 (48%) carcinomas. In carcinomas, N-cadherin expression was most often seen in ovarian carcinoma but was also found in other carcinomas. Calretinin, an established marker of mesothelial cells, was detected in 52 of 56 (93%) reactive specimens, 11 of 12 (93%) mesotheliomas, and 3 of 98 (3%) carcinomas. Evaluation of staining results led to reclassification of six malignant specimens as benign, whereas 17 cases diagnosed as benign and the two diagnosed as inconclusive were classified as malignant. In conclusion, desmin appears to be a promising marker for the distinction between reactive mesothelium and malignant epithelial cells in terms of both specificity and sensitivity, and its complementary use with calretinin is recommended. Unlike calretinin, it may also prove valuable for the distinction between benign and malignant mesothelial cells. N-cadherin does not have a role in the distinction between mesothelial and epithelial cells. However, it may prove useful in the characterization of carcinomas of unknown origin. As has previously been shown, a significant number of diagnoses that are based on morphologic examination alone are modified after the use of a broad antibody panel.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Ascitic Fluid / chemistry*
  • Ascitic Fluid / pathology
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis*
  • Cadherins / analysis*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Desmin / analysis*
  • Epithelium / chemistry
  • Epithelium / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pleural Effusion / chemistry*
  • Pleural Effusion / pathology
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Cadherins
  • Desmin