Objective. Cathepsin K and tartrate-resistant acid phosphatase (TRAP) are two proteins expressed in osteoclastic giant cells. Recently we showed that lesional multinucleated giant cells (MNGs) in pulmonary granulomatosis with polyangiitis expressed these proteins. We aimed to clarify whether the expression of these two proteins has any specificity or is a general feature of MNGs associated with multiple types of granulomatous inflammation. Methods. In total, 7 Crohn's disease (CD), 5 GCA, 5 giant cell myocarditis (GCM), 11 sarcoidosis and 6 tuberculosis cases were examined for expression of cathepsin K and TRAP using immunohistochemistry (IHC). Protein expression was semi-quantitatively classified as none, weak, moderate or strong. In addition, tissue TRAP activity was examined using an enzymatic reaction. Results. The expression of cathepsin K was robust in >95% of MNGs of all examined disease groups, whereas TRAP expression varied; CD, GCA and tuberculosis showed strong TRAP expression. TRAP expression in sarcoidosis and GCM was weaker (CD vs GCM, P = 0.04; CD vs sarcoidosis, P = 0.06). Compared with IHC, TRAP detection using an enzymatic colour reaction had limited sensitivity. Conclusion. Expression of TRAP and cathepsin K is a general feature of MNGs and their expression might be related to histopathological pattern. © The Author 2013. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the British Society for Rheumatology. All rights reserved.