Glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), a sequence-related factor of the transforming growth factor-beta family, has been identified as a potent neurotrophic factor for a variety of neuronal cell populations. At present, it is still unknown whether human gliomas in vivo are also capable of producing GDNF. We studied the expression of GDNF in 14 human glioblastomas, 1 gliosarcoma and 5 astrocytomas. Using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, the amount of GDNF was quantified in human gliomas and compared to GDNF-expression in C6 glioma cells, mouse fibroblasts and normal human and rat brain. Mean concentration of GDNF in gliomas was 937 +/- 140 pg GDNF/g tissue (n = 20). C6 cells revealed the highest expression levels of 2,837 +/- 813 pg/g, whereas mouse 3T3 fibroblasts showed no detectable GDNF protein. Mean GDNF tissue levels in normal human and rat brain were significantly lower. Using reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction, GDNF mRNA was detected in human gliomas and in rat C6 cells. Immunohistochemistry revealed strong GDNF- and GDNF receptor-alpha 1-expressing tumor cells in human glioma tissue. These results show that glial tumors, even in the most dedifferentiated form of glioblastoma, express GDNF at concentrations up to five times higher compared to normal human brain. This overexpression of GDNF may be of biological relevance for proliferation of glial tumors in humans.