Polo-like kinase (PLK) is a cell cycle-regulated, cyclin-independent serine/threonine protein kinase. Recent reports have shown a critical role for PLK during tumorigenesis. To explore whether PLK plays a general role as a tumor marker of endometrial carcinomas, we examined the expression of PLK mRNA and protein in endometrial carcinomas and normal endometrium, and analyzed the relationship between PLK protein expression and malignant potential. We found that PLK mRNA was expressed in all specimens from endometrial carcinoma patients using RT-PCR methods, although some specimens from normal endometria were negative. Immunohistochemically, most of the PLK was found in the cytoplasm (around the nucleus), and partly in the nucleus of endometrial carcinoma glands and also secreted tissues from endometrial carcinoma glands. PLK was expressed at the basement membrane of carcinoma glands and partly expressed in the head portion of papillary carcinoma tissues. There was a significant correlation between percentages of PLK-positive cells and histological grade of endometrial carcinoma (P<0.0001). However, the expression of proliferating cell nuclear antigen and Ki-67 was independent of PLK expression. Moreover, we noted that PLK is strongly expressed in invading carcinoma cells. PLK expression could reflect the degree of malignancy and proliferation in endometrial carcinoma. Thus, in addition to being of diagnostic value, modulation of PLK activity in the tumors by chemotherapeutic agents or gene therapy may prove to be of therapeutic value.