KOC (K homology domain containing protein overexpressed in cancer) is a novel oncofetal RNA-binding protein highly expressed in pancreatic carcinomas. Recently, Corixa Corporation developed a monoclonal antibody specific for KOC that can be used with standard immunohistochemical techniques. The purposes of this study were 1) to assess KOC mRNA expression in pancreatic carcinoma, 2) to determine the pattern of KOC immunoexpression among benign, borderline, and malignant pancreatic epithelial lesions, and 3) to evaluate the utility of the KOC antibody in distinguishing between these entities. mRNA was isolated from fresh pancreatic tissues (19 carcinomas, 2 normal pancreas, 1 chronic pancreatitis) and amplified using standard RT-PCR techniques. Fifteen of 19 (79%) carcinomas overexpressed KOC mRNA relative to non-neoplastic tissue samples and expression increased progressively with tumor stage: the mean copy number of KOC mRNA transcripts was 1.5, 11.1, 31, and 28 for stage I, II, III, and IV carcinomas, respectively, compared with 0.9 and 1 for normal pancreatic tissue and chronic pancreatitis, respectively. Immunostains using the KOC antibody were performed on 50 surgical resection specimens (38 invasive adenocarcinomas, 3 intraductal papillary-mucinous neoplasms, 2 mucinous cystic neoplasms, 7 chronic pancreatitis). KOC staining was present in 37 of 38 (97%) carcinomas: the staining reaction was moderate or strong in 36 of 38 (94%) and present in >50% of the tumor cells in 35 of 38 (92%) cases. Severe dysplasia of the ductal epithelium, present in 19 foci of intraductal papillary mucinous carcinoma, mucinous cystadenocarcinoma, and grade 3 pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PanIN3) showed strong or moderate staining in 15 (79%) cases, whereas foci of mild and moderate dysplasia (intraductal papillary-mucinous neoplasms and mucinous cystic neoplasms with adenoma and/or moderate dysplasia, PanIN1, and PanIN2) were uniformly negative for this marker in 25 and 22 cases, respectively. In the normal pancreas, weak background staining of acini was present in 12 of 50 (24%) cases but was easily distinguishable from the type of staining identified in neoplastic epithelium, and benign ducts and ductules were negative in all cases. Four of 38 (11%) foci of chronic pancreatitis, present in the 7 resections performed for chronic pancreatitis as well as 31 foci of peritumoral chronic pancreatitis, showed weak staining in <10% of the ductules. We conclude that KOC is a sensitive and specific marker for carcinomas and high-grade dysplastic lesions of the pancreatic ductal epithelium. Therefore, immunostains directed against KOC may be of diagnostic utility in the evaluation of pancreatic lesions, particularly when biopsy material is limited.