A monoclonal antibody (MAb), PAM4, having reactivity with pancreatic carcinoma has been developed. PAM4 is an IgG, immunoglobulin produced by immunization of mice with mucin purified from the xenografted RIPI human pancreatic carcinoma. An immunohistochemical study of normal adult tissues showed the PAM4 reactive epitope to be restricted to the gastrointestinal tract and absent from normal pancreas. In neoplastic tissue, PAM4 was reactive with 85% of the pancreatic carcinomas, approximately half of the colon cancers and none of the breast, ovarian, prostate, renal and liver cancers. PAM4 was, in general, non-reactive with pancreatitis specimens whereas CAI 9.9 and DUPAN2 were strongly reactive with each one. Treatment of the mucin antigen by heating, reduction of disulfide bonds, or protease digestion abolished immunoreactivity with PAM4. Treatment of the mucin by neuraminidase or period ate oxidation reduced immunoreactivity but did not completely abolish it. Our data are consistent with the proposal that the PAM4 epitope is a conformation ally dependent peptide epitope and that certain carbohydrate structures are necessary in order to maintain the correct peptide conformation. The high specificity and intense reactivity of PAM4 with pancreatic carcinoma tissue suggests that the antibody may prove useful for in vitro diagnostic assays as well as in vivo targeting of diagnostic and therapeutic agents. © 1994 Wiley-Liss, Inc.