CD56 is immunohistochemically detectable in virtually all small cell carcinomas on frozen sections. The authors retrospectively tested the usefulness of the monoclonal antibody 123C3 against CD56 to differentiate pulmonary and extrapulmonary small cell carcinomas from nonneuroendocrine non-small cell carcinomas by paraffin-section immunohistochemistry after antigen retrieval. The study included 70 small cell carcinomas and 344 primary and metastatic nonneuroendocrine carcinomas of various primary sites. The staining results were compared with specific neuroendocrine markers (CD57, Chromogranin A, Synaptophysin). The monoclonal antibody 123C3 diffusely stained most small cell carcinomas with a strong membranous pattern (sensitivity: 0.99). The staining intensity was not diminished in areas with crush artifacts or after decalcification. The neuroendocrine markers had a combined sensitivity of only 0.44 for small cell carcinomas. With regard to nonneuroendocrine carcinomas, the 123C3 antibody stained 7 of 28 ovarian carcinomas, 6 of 30 renal cell carcinomas, 2 of 10 endometrial carcinomas, two of three nonneuroendocrine large cell carcinomas of the lung, 1 of 38 adenocarcinomas, and 4 of 52 squamous cell carcinomas of the lung. Urothelial carcinomas, hepatocellular carcinomas, squamous carcinomas of the head/neck and cervix uteri, as well as adenocarcinomas of the breast, stomach, colon, pancreas, and prostate, showed no immunoreactivity for CD56. The specificities of 123C3 and the combined neuroendocrine markers for small cell carcinomas were 0.94 and 0.95, respectively. The authors conclude that monoclonal antibody 123C3 might be useful for the immunohistochemical differentiation of small cell carcinomas from nonneuroendocrine carcinomas on paraffin sections, especially in small and crushed biopsy specimens.