p140/KIR3DL2 has been identified in malignant cell lines isolated from the skin and blood of patients with transformed mycosis fungoides (MF) and Sézary's syndrome (SS). For the first time, the expression of a cell membrane structure appeared to be able to distinguish CD4+ tumour lymphocytes from reactive lymphocytes in these small cutaneous T-cell lymphomas (CTCLs). This study has examined the in vivo expression of this receptor in various CTCL subtypes, which constituted a heterogeneous group. Tumour cells diffusely expressed KIR in SS, in lymphomatoid papulosis (LyP) and in CD4+CD30+ as well as CD8+ large cell pleomorphic CTCL. In contrast, the infiltrating lymphocytes did not express KIR in MF at the patch/plaque stage or in CD4+CD30− large cell pleomorphic CTCL, except for scattered small cells. One quarter of the transformed MF tested exhibited KIR+ tumour cells, suggesting heterogeneity in this subtype. KIR expression was also examined in inflammatory lesions characterized by a dense infiltrate of T cells, such as lupus erythematosus and lichen planus. Only scattered CD8+ cells in lichen planus expressed a significant amount of KIR3DL2. Taken together, these results show for the first time that KIR molecules are expressed in distinct subtypes of malignant CTCL. It is also shown for the first time that SS and MF, which are frequent variants of CTCL with similar histological features, can be distinguished by their KIR3DL2 expression analysis. The identification of this KIR also differentiates between lupus erythematosus and lichen planus, which are both diseases with dense benign lymphocytic infiltrates. Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.