CD Markers

Topic Completed: 1 November 2011

Revised: 19 August 2019

Copyright: (c) 2002-2018,, Inc.

PubMed Search: CD56 [title]

Nat Pernick, M.D.
Page views in 2019: 25,070
Page views in 2020 to date: 7,311
Cite this page: Pernick N. CD56. website. Accessed April 8th, 2020.
Definition / general
  • Homophilic binding glycoprotein with role in cell–cell adhesion (Wikipedia)
  • Nerves:
    • Regulates homophilic (like-like) interactions between neurons and between neurons and muscle
    • Associates with fibroblast growth factor receptor and stimulates tyrosine kinase activity of receptor to induce neurite outgrowth
    • When neural crest cells stop making N-CAM and N-cadherin and start displaying integrin receptors, cells separate and migrate (J Cell Sci 2002;115:283)
  • Hematopoiesis:
    • Prototypic marker of Natural Killer (NK) cells
    • It also presents on subset of CD4+ and CD8+ T cells
    • NK cells include a less mature (CD56(bright) / CD16-) subset that is more common in lymph nodes and a more mature (CD56(dim)/CD16+) subset that is more numerous in peripheral blood (Hum Pathol 2011;42:679)
  • Adhesion:
    • Contributes to cell-cell or cell-matrix adhesion during development
Prognostic factors
Case reports
Uses by pathologists
Microscopic (histologic) images

Case of the Week

NK lymphoma-nasal type

Renal carcinoid, primary

Solid pseudopapillary neoplasm, pancreas

 Contributed by Carolyn Glass, M.D.


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Aggressive NK cell leukemia

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Alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma

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Blastic NK lymphoma, Fig.3(L), Fig.5(R)

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NK-like T cell lymphoma of ileum, F4

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CD56, F.3C

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Bone marrow, F.E

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Small cell carcinoma, nasal, F.1E

Flow cytometry images

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Extranodal nasal NK / T cell lymphoma

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Primary intestinal intraepithelial NK-like T cell lymphoma

Positive staining - normal
  • NK cells (80 - 90%), large granular lymphocytes, activated T cells, osteoblasts
  • Cerebellum and cortex at neuromuscular junctions, neuroendocrine tissue, neurons (membranous pattern), glia
  • Ovarian stromal cells
  • Rete testis cells (clusters of sloughed cells in hydrocele and spermatocele specimens may mimic small cell carcinoma, Hum Pathol 2010;41:88)
  • Skeletal muscle
Positive staining - disease
Negative staining
  • Normal: B cells, granulocytes, monocytes, plasma cells
  • ALL, large granular NK cell lymphocytosis (some cases, Am J Pathol 2004;165:1117), peirpheral T cell lymphoma, plasma cell leukemia, PNET/Ewing’s sarcoma, subcutaneous panniculitis-like T-cell lymphoma (Arch Pathol Lab Med 2009;133:303)
Additional references
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