Stains & CD markers

Topic Completed: 1 August 2013

Minor changes: 21 June 2021

Copyright: 2002-2022,, Inc.

Nat Pernick, M.D.
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Cite this page: Pernick N. CD3. website. Accessed January 19th, 2022.
Definition / general
  • Common antibody for identifying T cells
  • Member of immunoglobulin superfamily on 11q23
  • Also called OKT3
  • Complex of delta (CD3d, OMIM #186790), epsilon (CD3e, OMIM #186830), gamma (CD3g, OMIM #186740), zeta (OMIM #186780, also called CD247) and eta chains of integral membrane glycoproteins that associates with T cell antigen receptor (TCR), and is required for TCR cell surface expression and signal transduction (see Lymph nodes & spleen, nonlymphoma chapter)
  • TCR-CD3 complex consists of either TCR alpha / beta or TCR gamma / delta heterodimers coexpressed at cell surface with CD3
Clinical features
Uses by pathologists
  • Most specific T cell antibody; usually to identify T cells in benign and malignant disorders; most antibodies are directed against epsilon chain
  • CD3 / CD20 immunostains are often performed in initial cytological evaluation of lymphoid-rich pleural effusions, but their cost-effectiveness has been questioned (Diagn Cytopathol 2012;40:565)
  • Does NOT improve detection of gluten sensitive enteropathy when H&E sections are normal.(Mod Pathol 2013;26:1241)
Microscopic (histologic) images

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Cases of the month

Staining of tumor cells:

Breast: high grade peripheral T cell lymphoma

Nose: NK/T cell lymphoma, nasal type

Thymoma: lymphocyte predominant

Staining of nonneoplastic infiltrating T cells:

CNS: primary diffuse large B cell lymphoma

Eye: ocular adnexal mantle cell lymphoma

Lymph node: nodular lymphocyte predominant Hodgkin Lymphoma

Lymph node: nodal hamartoma

Myeloid sarcoma

Skin: halo nevus

Skin graft rejection

Negative controls / no T cells identified:

Stomach: MALT lymphoma

Images hosted on other servers:

Staining of tumor cells:
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Fig A, hepatosplenic gamma-delta T cell lymphoma

Staining of nonneoplastic infiltrating T cells:
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Esophagus diffuse large B cell lymphoma

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Skin: Jessner lymphocytic infiltration

Inflammatory disorders - staining of T cells:
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Myocardium: acute cellular rejection

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Thyroid: Hashimoto thyroiditis (Fig C, E , F)

Negative controls / no T cells identified:
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Fig D, MALT lymphoma is CD3-

Positive staining - normal
  • Thymocytes, peripheral T cells (cytoplasmic expression at early T cell differentiation, then membranous expression)
  • NK cells (CD3 epsilon, cytoplasmic in 56%, not membranous); also Purkinje cells of cerebellum
  • Note: nonspecific cytoplasmic staining may be present in plasma cells and macrophages
Positive staining - disease
  • Polykaryocytes in various benign and malignant disorders
  • 80% of T cell lymphomas, NK lymphoma (cytoplasmic, not membranous), lymphomatoid granulomatosis, lymphomatoid papulosis and pre T ALL (cytoplasmic staining)
  • LP cells in nodular lymphocyte predominant Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Variable in primary effusion lymphoma and pyothorax associated lymphoma
Negative staining
  • B cells, histiocytes and histiocytic lesions, osteoblasts
  • Most B cell lymphomas, but aberrant staining exists (Am J Surg Pathol 2012;36:1364)
  • Aberrant loss of CD3 in some cases of mycosis fungoides (Am J Clin Pathol 2000;114:467), anaplastic large cell lymphoma and angioimmunoblastic T cell lymphoma (Am J Clin Pathol 2006;126:29)
  • NK large granular lymphocyte leukemia
  • Reed-Sternberg cells are negative in classic Hodgkin lymphoma but may be surrounded by CD3 epsilon+ rosettes; LP cells in nodular lymphocyte predominant Hodgkin lymphoma are CD3-
  • Small cell carcinoma, melanoma, granulocytic sarcoma, Ewing sarcoma and post-transplant lymphoproliferative disorders
Flow cytometry description
Flow cytometry images

Case #36

Soft tissue: anaplastic large cell lymphoma

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