The distributions of hyaluronan (HA) and its CD44 receptor were studied in 24 normal, 27 dysplastic samples of laryngeal epithelium and in 172 squamous cell carcinomas (LSCC), using a specific probe prepared from cartilage proteoglycan (bHABC, biotinylated hyaluronan binding complex) and a monoclonal antibody (Hermes 3). HA and CD44 were expressed similarly in all normal and about 90% of dysplastic and neoplastic laryngeal epithelia. In the normal epithelium HA and CD44 were homogeneously distributed throughout the epithelium, whereas the most superficial layers were negative. This was in contrast to the picture in dysplastic epithelium and well-differentiated invasive carcinomas, which were entirely HA and CD44 positive. Local areas with a low signal for HA and CD44 were present in 11% and 22% of the samples with dysplasia, and in 27% and 28% of those with carcinoma, respectively. The presence of this staining irregularity was associated with poor differentiation of the carcinoma, a significantly elevated mitotic index and a high frequency of nodal spreading and metastases. Furthermore, the irregular staining showed a trend towards poor disease-free survival, suggesting that an altered metabolism of HA is a common feature in LSCC and is associated with an aggressive growth pattern.