DNA amplification in cancer cells frequently involves oncogenes whose increased expression confers a selective advantage on tumor cell growth. In an attempt to identify novel oncogenes involved in hepatocarcinogenesis, representational difference analysis (RDA) was performed using DNA from a primary human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) that showed high-level DNA amplifications on chromosomes 1p32 and 11q13 by comparative genomic hybridization. Ten amplification fragments were isolated by RDA, and when used to probe Southern blots of tumor DNA, there was a 5- to 50-fold increase in hybridization intensity relative to normal DNA. The sequence of one amplification product matched that of the EMS1 oncogene, which is located on chromosome 11q13 and is amplified in other cancers. We detected EMS1 amplification in 3 of 17 primary HCC. Overexpression of EMS1 mRNA was observed in 12 of 14 HCC cell lines in the absence of gene amplification or an increased copy-number of the gene. The EMS1 gene encodes cortactin, a cortical actin-associated protein that is a substrate for Src kinase and is involved in cytoskeleton organization. Alterations of the EMS1 gene that lead to overexpression of cortactin may be associated with tumor development in HCC. EMS1 amplification and overexpresion is indicative of unfavorable prognosis in several cancers and may have similar prognostic implications in liver cancer.