The c-kit gene encodes a transmembrane receptor that has tyrosine kinase activity. c-kit plays a role in hematopoiesis, gametogenesis, and melanogenesis. c-kit is found in melanocytes, and there is evidence that expression is lost in melanoma. We studied 85 melanocytic lesions for c-kit by immunohistochemical techniques using a monoclonal antibody. The lesions included banal nevi, junctional and compound nevi with melanocytic dysplasia, nontumorigenic radial growth phase melanoma, tumorigenic vertical growth phase melanoma, and metastatic melanoma. We found intense membrane staining in normal melanocytes and mast cells. Staining in compound nevi was strongest in junctional and superficial dermal components, whereas dermal nevi showed weak reactivity. Dysplastic nevi stained strongly, particularly in junctional cells. In melanoma, strong reactivity was most prominent in radial growth phase disease, but there was little or no staining in vertical growth phase and metastatic melanomas. In summary, c-kit protein is expressed in normal melanocytes, benign nevi, dysplastic nevi and nontumorigenic melanoma, but expression is lost in tumorigenic primary melanomas and metastases. The role of c-kit loss in advanced melanoma requires additional investigation.