The spectrum of Kit (CD117) immunoreactivity in lung and pleural tumors: a study of 96 cases using a single-source antibody with a review of the literature

Arch Pathol Lab Med. 2004 May;128(5):538-43. doi: 10.5858/2004-128-538-TSOKCI.


Context: The development of successful chemotherapeutic agents directed against the Kit receptor tyrosine kinase protein has generated intense interest in the Kit (CD117) immunoreactivity of various neoplasms. Immunoreactivity for Kit in small cell lung carcinoma (SCLC) has been well established. However, data on Kit immunostaining in other lung tumors is limited. Likewise, while solitary fibrous tumors of the gastrointestinal tract have been examined for Kit expression, the Kit staining characteristics of their counterpart in the pleura, namely, localized fibrous tumor, are not well known.

Objective: To characterize the Kit immunohistochemical profiles of major types of lung and pleural tumors.

Design: We stained 60 lung carcinomas, including 11 SCLCs, 4 large cell neuroendocrine carcinomas, 22 squamous cell carcinomas, 23 adenocarcinomas, 11 pulmonary carcinoid tumors, 19 pleural malignant mesotheliomas, and 6 localized pleural fibrous tumors with a commonly used polyclonal Kit antibody.

Results: Small cell lung carcinomas demonstrated Kit staining in 82% of cases, nearly all of which demonstrated moderate to intense immunoreactivity. Immunostaining was observed in 25% of large cell neuroendocrine carcinomas. Focal staining was observed in 9% of squamous cell carcinomas and 17% of adenocarcinomas. None of the pulmonary carcinoid tumors were immunoreactive. Moderately intense immunostaining was present in 50% of localized fibrous tumors. Malignant mesotheliomas were nonimmunoreactive for Kit in 95% of cases.

Conclusion: Non-small cell lung carcinomas showed very limited expression of Kit. Lung tumors with neuroendocrine differentiation exhibited a wide spectrum of Kit immunoreactivity, ranging from rare in pulmonary carcinoid tumors to frequent in SCLC. The high frequency of Kit immunostaining in SCLC has important potential therapeutic implications. Demonstration of Kit positivity in some localized fibrous tumors in this study contrasts with absent immunoreactivity in solitary fibrous tumors of the gastrointestinal tract. The paucity of Kit staining in malignant mesothelioma suggests these tumors are unlikely to respond to currently available tyrosine kinase inhibitors.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Lung Neoplasms / chemistry*
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology
  • Pleural Neoplasms / chemistry*
  • Pleural Neoplasms / pathology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-kit / analysis*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-kit / immunology


  • Antibodies
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-kit