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The histologic and immunohistochemical differentiation of Ewing's sarcoma/primitive neuroectodermal tumor (ES/PNET) from other small, blue, round cell tumors may be difficult. Despite initial promise, CD99 (MIC2) has not proven to be a specific marker. Approximately 90% of ES/PNET have a specific t(11; 22)(q24;q12) that results in fusion of the EWS and FLI-1 genes, and overexpression of FLI-1 protein. A recent study has shown immunohistochemical FLI-1 expression in five of seven of the ES/PNET cases tested. We evaluated FLI-1 expression in 132 well-characterized small, blue, round cell tumors. All tumors were immunostained for FLI-1 (1:40, Sc 356 polyclonal, Santa Cruz Biotechnology) using steam heat for epitope retrieval. Only nuclear staining was accepted as positive. Endothelial cells were strongly positive in all cases and served as an internal control. In many cases, a subset of lymphocytes also stained positive. No staining was seen in any other normal tissue. FLI-1 expression was seen in 29 of 41 (71%) ES/PNET, 7 of 8 (88%) lymphoblastic lymphomas, 0 of 8 poorly differentiated synovial sarcomas (PDSS), 0 of 32 rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS), 0 of 30 neuroblastomas, 0 of 8 esthesioneuroblastomas, 0 of 3 Wilms' tumors, 0 of 1 mesenchymal chondrosarcoma, and in 1 of 1 desmoplastic round cell tumor. This last case was known to have an EWS/WT-1 fusion. Although the EWS/FLI-1 fusion gene is specific for ES/PNET, FLI-1 protein expression is not. Significantly, the great majority of lymphoblastic lymphomas (also CD99-positive) are strongly FLI-1-positive. Immunohistochemical detection of FLI-1 may be valuable in confirming the diagnosis of ES/PNET in cases in which molecular genetic evaluation is not feasible. FLI-1 protein expression is also helpful in distinguishing ES/PNET from other tumors that may be CD99-positive, such as PDSS and RMS. It is not surprising that some ES/PNET are FLI-1-negative, because not all ES/PNET have the classic EWS/FLI-1, and some cases of ES/PNET may produce either low levels of protein or idiotypically different protein.

(C) 2000 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.