The adenomatous polyposis coli (APC) gene, a member of the Wingless/Wnt signal transduction pathway, has been implicated in the development of medulloblastomas in Turcot's syndrome. beta-catenin also functions in this highly conserved signaling pathway and is instrumental in growth and development. Mutations in either APC or beta-catenin can stabilize beta-catenin protein. Stabilized beta-catenin complexes with Tcf/Lef transcription factors and moves from the cytoplasm into the nucleus where it regulates the transcription of c-Myc and other genes. Nuclear localization of beta-catenin therefore implies activation of the signaling pathway. We have analyzed the subcellular localization of beta-catenin in 51 sporadic medulloblastomas and in 1 medulloblastoma arising in a patient with Turcot's syndrome. Nuclear beta-catenin staining was present in 9 of the sporadic tumors (18%) and in the 1 medulloblastoma from a Turcot's patient. The remaining 41 cases did not show nuclear staining. This confirms earlier observations that Wingless/Wnt signaling is involved in a subset of sporadic medulloblastomas. We also examined 48 glial and meningeal CNS tumors, all of which were negative for nuclear beta-catenin. Exon 3 of beta-catenin was sequenced in 6 of the 9 sporadic medulloblastomas with nuclear beta-catenin staining. Five of the 6 tumors sequenced had mutations affecting highly conserved beta-catenin phosphorylation sites involved in protein stability. These data suggest a simple immunohistochemical method to screen for beta-catenin mutations in medulloblastomas.