The clinical, histologic, and immunohistologic features of 22 desmoplastic melanomas (DMM), 10 mixed desmoplastic and spindle-cell melanomas (DMM/SMM), and two cellular spindle-cell melanomas (SMM) were studied. Patients ranged in age from 35 to 91 years (mean, 67) and included 23 men and 11 women. Seventeen cases occurred in sun-damaged skin of the head and neck. 11 were on the extremities, and six on the trunk. Except for two cases, all were Clark's level IV or V. Twenty-two (65%) cases were associated with a recognizable overlying pigmented lesion. Thirty of 32 (94%) DMM and DMM/SMM were clearly positive for S100. S100 staining was limited to < 5% of the spindle cells in two DMM/SMM. All DMM were negative when stained with HMB45. Three DMM/ SMM were immunoreactive with HMB45, as were both SMM. CD68 staining was limited to < 5% of the spindle cells in two of 32 DMM and DMM/SMM and 20% of the cells in one of two SMM. Nine (32%) DMM and DMM/SMM contained significant numbers of spindle cells immunoreactive for SMA but not desmin. In five cases, the number of actin-positive spindle cells. Two color stains for SMA and S100 demonstrated that these smooth-muscle actin positive cells constituted a separate spindle-cell population, consistent with reactive myofibroblasts. This study indicates that the immunohistologic features of desmoplastic melanoma differ from those of conventional melanoma. If a problematic spindle-cell skin lesion is a suspected melanocytic process, HMB45 is unlikely to provide confirmatory (or exclusionary) evidence for the diagnosis of DMM. Similarly, because of the variability in S100 expression in this neoplasm, the absence of S100 staining should not be relied on too heavily to exclude DMM if the clinical and histologic features favor that diagnosis. Caution should be exercised in the interpretation of numerous actin-positive spindle cells in isolation of additional confirmatory or exclusionary data as desmoplastic melanomas may contain significant numbers of these cells.