Esophageal adenocarcinoma arising on a background of Barrett's esophagus is increasing in incidence. A molecular understanding of both the progression of Barrett's esophagus and the factors determining the response of adenocarcinoma to neoadjuvant therapy is required, and this study focused on the role of proteins regulated by the bcl-2 family of genes, which are important regulators of programmed cell death (apoptosis). In total, 48 patients (36 men, 12 women) with Barrett's adenocarcinoma were studied. All patients received preoperative chemoradiotherapy followed by surgery. Bcl-2, bax and bcl-x protein expression were detected by standard avidin-biotin peroxidase method. Bcl-2, bax and bcl-x expression were detected in 84%, 80%, and 76%, respectively, of normal squamous mucosa. An increasing degree of dysplasia in Barrett's mucosa both before and after chemoradiotherapy was significantly associated with a reduction of bcl-2 expression (P = 0.03 and 0.009, respectively). Bcl-2 expression was significantly associated with tumor differentiation (P = 0.03) and a trend towards earlier T stage (P = 0.08), but not with nodal status. Pre-therapeutic bcl-2, bax and bcl-x protein expression (27%, 75%, and 87.5%, respectively) were not associated with tumor response or resistance to therapy. Bcl-2-positive patients had a significantly improved survival compared with bcl-2-negative tumors. A significant reduction of bcl-2 expression is associated with the progression of Barrett's mucosa to adenocarcinoma. Bcl-2 expression was associated with improved survival. Preoperative chemoradiotherapy induces expression of bax and bcl-x protein. The pretreatment expression of bcl-2 and related proteins did not predict response or resistance to neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy, suggesting that regulators of apoptosis alone do not determine the response of Barrett's adenocarcinoma to neoadjuvant therapy.