Syndecan-1, a heparan sulfate-rich membrane glycoprotein, is expressed in plasma cells and is considered a reliable marker of plasmacytic differentiation. However, it has not been widely tested in non-hematolymphoid tissues, and thus its utility in the setting of an undifferentiated malignant neoplasm has not been evaluated. The authors conducted an extensive study of CD138 staining in over 1,700 normal, benign, and malignant non-hematolymphoid tissues, using five tissue microarrays. Immunohistochemical staining was performed with two commercially available CD138 monoclonal antibodies directed against syndecan-1 (Serotec, Oxford, UK, and DAKO, Carpenteria, CA). In addition to the specific membrane staining, many normal tissues and epithelial tumors showed strong cytoplasmic immunoreactivity. A small subset of mesenchymal neoplasms also showed membrane and cytoplasmic immunoreactivity. In squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck, renal cell carcinoma, and prostate adenocarcinoma, the intensity of CD138 staining inversely correlated with the histologic grade of the carcinoma. However, statistically significant staining differences and their correlation with histologic grades differed depending on whether the Serotec or the DAKO antibody was used. These results indicate that CD138 immunoreactivity is widespread in normal and neoplastic epithelial tissues, as well as a variety of undifferentiated epithelial and mesenchymal processes. The authors conclude that the expression of syndecan-1, although relatively specific to plasma cells within the hematolymphoid system, should be interpreted with extreme caution in the setting of an undifferentiated neoplasm. Furthermore, the two commercially available monoclonal CD138 antibodies tested in this study showed significant differences in their immunoreactivity in different tumor types.