Ectopical expression of huMUC18, a cell adhesion molecule in the immunoglobulin gene superfamily, causes a non-metastatic human melanoma cell line to become metastatic in a nude mouse system. To determine if MUC18 expression correlates with the development and malignant progression of prostate cancer, we investigated differential expression of human MUC18 (huMUC18) in normal prostate epithelial cells, prostate cancer cell lines, and prostatic normal and cancer tissues. We cloned and characterized the human MUC18 (huMUC18) cDNA gene from three human prostate cancer cell lines and three human melanoma cell lines. The cDNA sequences from the six human cancer cell lines were identical except differences in one to five nucleotides. The deduced amino acid sequences of the longest ORF were 646 amino acids that were identical in these cDNAs except for one to three amino acid residues. The amino acid sequences of all our huMUC18 cDNA genes are similar to that cloned by other group (GenBank access #M28882) except differences in the same seven amino acids. We conclude that huMUC18 cDNA gene reported here represents the gene product from a major allele. The MUC18 mRNA and protein was expressed in three metastatic prostate cancer cell lines (TSU-PR1, DU145, and PC-3), but not in one non-metastatic prostate cancer cell line (LNCaP.FGC). The expression of huMUC18 in these four cell lines is positively related to their extent of in vitro motility and invasiveness and in vivo metastasis in nude mice. HuMUC18 protein was also expressed at high levels in extracts prepared from tissue sample sections containing high grade prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PIN), but weakly expressed in extracts prepared from cultured primary normal prostatic epithelial cells and the normal prostate gland. Immunohistochemical analysis showed that huMUC18 was expressed at higher levels in the epithelial cells of high-grade PIN and prostatic carcinomas, and in cells of a perineural invasion, a lymph node, and a lung metastases compared to that in normal or benign hyperplastic epithelium (BPH). We therefore conclude that MUC18 expression is increased during prostate cancer initiation (high grade PIN) and progression to carcinoma, and in metastatic cell lines and metastatic carcinoma. Increased expression of MUC18 is implicated to play an important role in developing and malignant progression of human prostate cancer. Furthermore, the lacking of predominant cytoplasmic membrane expression of MUC18 appeared to correlate with malignant progression of prostate cancer.