Detection of the CD56+/CD45- immunophenotype by flow cytometry in neuroendocrine malignancies

J Clin Pathol. 2002 Jul;55(7):535-7. doi: 10.1136/jcp.55.7.535.


Aims: Antibodies against CD56 are primarily used in flow cytometric studies to detect natural killer cells. However, they may be useful in the identification of neuroendocrine malignancies, especially if the cells do not express CD45, indicating a non-leucocyte origin.

Methods: A retrospective review was conducted on all solid tissue flow cytometric studies performed between January 1997 and September 2001, to identify all cases with a CD56+/CD45- immunophenotype.

Results: Twelve neuroendocrine malignancies (five metastatic small cell carcinomas, three Merkel cell carcinomas, two metastatic undifferentiated neuroendocrine carcinomas, one metastatic pancreatic neuroendocrine carcinoma, and one neuroblastoma) were identified.

Conclusions: CD56+/CD45- neuroendocrine malignancies are only rarely detected in the flow cytometric analysis of solid tissue samples. However, the recognition of this immunophenotype is important to avoid their misclassification as natural killer cell malignancies. Furthermore, flow cytometry assists in the rapid identification of such cases, so that appropriate immunohistochemical studies can be performed to facilitate their correct diagnosis.

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, Neoplasm / analysis*
  • CD56 Antigen / analysis*
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • Immunophenotyping
  • Leukocyte Common Antigens / analysis*
  • Neuroendocrine Tumors / diagnosis*
  • Neuroendocrine Tumors / immunology
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • CD56 Antigen
  • Leukocyte Common Antigens