Alterations of DNA mismatch repair (MMR) genes are involved in carcinogenesis of sporadic and inherited human cancers characterised by instability of DNA microsatellite sequences (MSI). MSI tumours are usually identified using molecular analysis. In the present investigation, hMLH1 and hMSH2 immunohistochemistry was tested in order to evaluate the utility of this method in predicting MMR deficiency. Colorectal (72), gastric (68), endometrial (44) and ovarian (17) carcinomas were independently evaluated for familial history, histological type of tumour, MSI status and immunohistochemical results. Loss of expression of either hMLH1 or hMSH2 was observed in 51 of 55 (92.8%) MSI tumours, while 145 of 146 microsatellite stable (MSS) tumours expressed both the hMLH1 and hMSH2 gene products. Independently of tumour site, an overall agreement between immunohistochemical and molecular results was observed in 15 hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer-related tumours. Among sporadic tumours, only 2 of 60 colorectal and 2 of 66 gastric carcinomas, displaying MSI, expressed both hMLH1 and hMSH2 gene products. All 39 endometrial and 16 ovarian tumours presented a concordant molecular and immunohistochemical profile. These data show that immunohistochemistry is an accurate and rapid method to predict the presence of defective DNA MMR genes and to identify both sporadic and familial MSI tumours.