FGFRs (fibroblast growth factor receptors) are encoded by four genes (FGFR1-4). Alternative splicing results in various receptor isoforms. The FGFR2-IIIb variant is present in a wide variety of epithelia, including the bladder epithelium. Recently, we have shown that FGFR2-IIIb is downregulated in a subset of transitional cell carcinomas of the bladder, and that this downregulation is associated with a poor prognosis. We investigated possible tumour suppressive properties of FGFR2-IIIb by transfecting two human bladder tumour cell lines, J82 and T24, which have no endogenous FGFR2-IIIb expression, with FGFR2-IIIb cDNA. No stable clones expressing FGFR2-IIIb were isolated with the J82 cell line. For the T24 cell line, stable transfectants expressing FGFR2-IIIb had reduced growth in vitro and formed fewer tumours in nude mice which, in addition, grew more slowly. The potential mechanisms leading to decreased FGFR2-IIIb mRNA levels were also investigated. The 5' region of the human FGFR2 gene was isolated and found to contain a CpG island which was partially methylated in more than half the cell lines and tumours which do not express FGFR2-IIIb. No homozygous deletion was identified in any of the tumours or cell lines with reduced levels of FGFR2-IIIb. Mutational analysis of the entire coding region of FGFR2-IIIb at the transcript level was performed in 33 bladder tumours. In addition to normal FGFR2-IIIb mRNA, abnormal transcripts were detected in two tumour samples. These abnormal mRNAs resulted from exon skipping which affected the region encoding the kinase domain. Altogether, these results show that FGFR2-IIIb has tumour growth suppressive properties in bladder carcinomas and suggest possible mechanisms of FGFR2 gene inactivation.