CD31 expression in intratumoral macrophages: a potential diagnostic pitfall

Am J Surg Pathol. 2001 Sep;25(9):1167-73. doi: 10.1097/00000478-200109000-00007.


CD31 (platelet endothelial adhesion molecule, PECAM-1) is generally regarded to be the most sensitive and specific endothelial marker in paraffin sections. We have recently encountered several cases in which intratumoral CD31-positive macrophages were misinterpreted as evidence of a vascular sarcoma. We therefore reviewed our last 1950 consultation cases with respect to cases in which CD31 immunostains were performed, to determine the frequency of CD31 expression in macrophages in formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissue and how often the presence of these cells was a source of diagnostic confusion. CD31 immunohistochemistry had been performed on 59 of 1950 (3%) of cases. These 59 cases consisted of both vascular (20 cases) and nonvascular tumors (39 cases). CD31-positive macrophages were distinguished from endothelial or tumor cells by correlation with the morphologic features and the immunohistochemical staining pattern of the cells of interest. In no case was CD31 positivity seen in the lesional cells of a nonvascular tumor. CD31-positive macrophages were identified in 48 of 59 (81%) cases. CD31-positive macrophages were present in 34 of 39 (87%) nonvascular tumors. A vascular tumor was diagnosed or favored by the referring pathologist in 15 of these 39 cases (38%). In 14 of these 15 cases CD31 immunostains were performed by the referring pathologist; 13 (93%) showed CD31-positive macrophages. In 4 of these 14 cases (29%) the misdiagnosis of a vascular tumor was based primarily or in part on the misinterpretation of CD31-positive macrophages as tumor cells. In all cases with CD34 and CD68 immunostains, the CD31-positive macrophages were CD34 negative and CD68 positive. We conclude that CD31 expression is very common in macrophages. Misinterpretation of CD31-positive macrophages as tumor cells may result in the erroneous diagnosis of a primary vascular neoplasm. Recognition of the characteristic granular, membranous pattern of CD31 expression in macrophages and careful distinction from tumor cells should allow the accurate interpretation of CD31 immunohistochemistry in possible vascular neoplasms. CD31 may also be useful as a nonlysosomal marker of macrophages in formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded sections.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Endothelium, Vascular / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Macrophages / metabolism*
  • Macrophages / pathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms, Vascular Tissue / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms, Vascular Tissue / pathology
  • Platelet Endothelial Cell Adhesion Molecule-1 / metabolism*
  • Vascular Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Vascular Neoplasms / pathology


  • Platelet Endothelial Cell Adhesion Molecule-1