Oestrogens exert their actions via specific nuclear protein receptors that are members of the steroid/thyroid receptor superfamily of transcription factors. Recently, a second oestrogen receptor (ERbeta) has been cloned, and using reverse transcription-PCR and immunohistochemistry it has been shown to have a wide tissue distribution in the rat that is distinct from the classical oestrogen receptor, ERalpha. Using commercial polyclonal antisera against peptides specific to human ERbeta, we have determined the sites of ERbeta expression in archival and formalin-fixed human tissue and compared its expression with that of ERalpha. ERbeta was localised to the cell nuclei of a wide range of normal adult human tissues including ovary, Fallopian tube, uterus, lung, kidney, brain, heart, prostate and testis. In the ovary, ERbeta was present in multiple cell types including granulosa cells in small, medium and large follicles, theca and corpora lutea, whereas ERalpha was weakly expressed in the nuclei of granulosa cells, but not in the theca nor in the copora lutea. In the endometrium, both ERalpha and ERbeta were observed in luminal epithelial cells and in the nuclei of stromal cells but, significantly, ERbeta was weak or absent from endometrial glandular epithelia. Epithelial cells in most male tissues including the prostate, the urothelium and muscle layers of the bladder, and Sertoli cells in the testis, were also immunopositive for ERbeta. Significant ERbeta immunoreactivity was detected in most areas of the brain, with the exception of the hippocampus - a tissue that stained positively for ERalpha. In conclusion, the almost ubiquitous immunohistochemical localisation of ERbeta indicates that ERbeta may play a major role in the mediation of oestrogen action. The differential expression of ERalpha and ERbeta in some of these tissues suggests a more complex control mechanism in oestrogenic potential than originally envisioned.