The MTA1 gene is a recently identified novel candidate breast cancer metastasis-associated gene which has been implicated in the signal transduction or regulation of gene expression. We examined the mRNA expression levels of the MTA1, the human homologue of the rat mta1 gene in 47 surgically resected oesophageal squamous cell carcinomas by quantitative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction. The relative overexpression of MTA1 mRNA (tumour/normal ratio > or = 2) was observed in 16 out of 47 (34.0%) oesophageal carcinomas. Oesophageal tumours overexpressing MTA1 mRNA (T/N ratio > or = 2) showed significantly higher frequencies of adventitial invasion (P < 0.05) and lymph node metastasis (P < 0.05), and tended to have a higher rate of lymphatic involvement than the remaining tumours. Thus, the data suggest that the MTA1 gene might play an important role in invasion and metastasis of oesophageal carcinomas.