The antibody HMB-45 used as an immunohistochemical reagent has often been labeled as a marker for melanoma, even though some benign lesions have been noted to show positive staining reactions with this reagent. Biopsy specimens from 225 benign and malignant melanocytic lesions were examined after immunoperoxidase staining for S-100 protein and HMB-45. The lesions studied included common acquired nevi, spindle cell and epithelioid cell nevi (Spitz nevi), cellular blue nevi, deep penetrating nevi, congenital nevi, nevi from hormonally reactive areas (genital), malignant melanoma, and desmoplastic malignant melanoma. A positive reaction for HMB-45 was seen in the dermal component in a high percentage of each of these types of lesions except for the common acquired nevi and the desmoplastic malignant melanomas that were uniformly negative for HMB-45 in the dermal component. HMB-45 correlates with melanosome production and thus a melanocytic origin of HMB-45-positive cells. HMB-45 may correlate best with factors that stimulate melanocytic proliferation and production of melanosomes.