The authors have recently identified a new cytokeratin (CK) polypeptide, CK 20, whose expression is almost entirely confined to the gastric and intestinal epithelium, urothelium, and Merkel cells. Seven monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) specific for CK 20 were raised and characterized by applying immunoblotting and immunocytochemical screening. All of them reacted on frozen tissue sections. A further MAb, IT-Ks20.8, recognized CK 20 in sections of formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissue samples. A total of 711 cases of primary and metastatic cancer, mostly carcinomas, were analyzed immunohistochemically for CK-20 expression, using CK-20 specific guinea-pig antibodies and MAbs. The expression spectrum of CK 20 in carcinomas resembled that seen in the corresponding normal epithelia of origin. CK-20 positivity was seen in the vast majority of adenocarcinomas of the colon (89/93 cases), mucinous ovarian tumors, transitional-cell and Merkel-cell carcinomas and frequently also in adenocarcinomas of the stomach, bile system, and pancreas. Most squamous cell carcinomas in general and most adenocarcinomas from other sites (breast, lung, endometrium), nonmucinous tumors of the ovary, and small-cell lung carcinomas were essentially or completely negative. The authors propose to use CK 20 as a diagnostic marker valuable in distinguishing different types of carcinomas, notably when presenting as metastases.