It is difficult to identify lymph vessels in tissue sections by histochemical staining, and thus a specific marker for lymphatic endothelial cells would be more practical in histopathological diagnostics. Here we have applied a specific antigenic marker for lymphatic endothelial cells in the human skin, the vascular endothelial growth factor receptor-3 (VEGFR-3), and show that it identifies a distinct vessel population both in fetal and adult skin, which has properties of lymphatic vessels. The expression of VEGFR-3 was studied in normal human skin by in situ hybridization, iodinated ligand binding, and immunohistochemistry. A subset of developing vessels expressed the VEGFR-3 mRNA in fetal skin as shown by in situ hybridization and radioiodinated vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)-C bound selectively to a subset of vessels in adult skin that had morphological characteristics of lymphatic vessels. Monoclonal antibodies against the extracellular domain of VEGFR-3 stained specifically endothelial cells of dermal lymph vessels, in contrast to PAL-E antibodies, which stained only blood vessel endothelia. In addition, staining for VEGFR-3 was strongly positive in the endothelium of cutaneous lymphangiomatosis, but staining of endothelial cells in cutaneous hemangiomas was weaker. These results establish the utility of anti-VEGFR-3 antibodies in the identification of lymphovascular channels in the skin and in the differential diagnosis of skin lesions involving lymphatic or blood vascular endothelium.