Identification of colorectal carcinomas with high levels of DNA microsatellite instability (MSI-H) is important because of the suggested prognostic and therapeutic significance associated with MSI. The role of histology in identifying MSI-H colorectal carcinomas has been suggested by some studies but not confirmed by others. Furthermore, previous studies assumed that hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC)-associated MSI-H tumors and sporadic MSI-H tumors have similar histology. This assumption, however, has been challenged by more recent studies. In this report, we first analyzed the value of various histologic features in predicting MSI-H in a series of 218 colorectal carcinomas containing mixed HNPCC and sporadic cases [77 tumors (35%) were MSI-H by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method]. Then, we evaluated the various histologic features comparatively in two groups extracted from the 218 cases. Group A was composed of 84 tumors from 82 patients obtained based on a strong family history (HNPCC/HNPCC-like group) (male to female ratio, 42:40; age range, 23-80 years, median, 53.5 years). Thirty-one of the 84 tumors (41.7%) were MSI-H by PCR, and all 31 cases were HNPCC by Amsterdam criteria. Group B was composed of 109 patients with no family history of colorectal cancer or HNPCC-associated cancer, obtained from surgical clinics (sporadic group) (male to female ratio, 65:69; age range, 31-84 years, median, 65 years). Thirty-five of the 109 tumors (32.1%) were MSI-H by PCR. Our results showed that, overall, poor tumor differentiation, medullary type, mucinous type, signet-ring cell component, histologic heterogeneity, and increased tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) were features more commonly seen in MSI-H tumors than in non-MSI-H tumors. Comparative analyses showed that the overall TIL count was significantly higher in HNPCC/HNPCC-like group, and mucinous type appeared to be more frequent in HNPCC MSI-H tumors than in sporadic MSI-H tumors. However, there was no significant difference in the odds ratio for predicting MSI-H status for any of the analyzed histologic features between HNPCC/HNPCC-like group and sporadic group, indicating that differences between HNPCC and sporadic MSI-H tumors did not significantly impact on the informative value of histology in predicting MSI in the two different clinical settings. TIL counts followed by histologic heterogeneity provided the greatest sensitivity and specificity in predicting MSI status in both HNPCC/HNPCC-like and sporadic cases. Using a stepwise logistic regression model, a formula was generated that could be used to calculate the probability of a colorectal carcinoma being MSI-H based on morphologic features.