Transglutaminase type 1 (TGase 1) is a member of a class of enzymes that catalyze the cross-linking of proteins, a characteristic feature of epidermal differentiation and squamous metaplasia. The role of TGase 1 has been extensively studied in epidermis but not in the lung. Using a polyclonal anti-TGase 1 antibody prepared in our laboratory (TGase-lac), TGase 1 expression in normal bronchial epithelium, bronchial preinvasive lesions, and lung cancer was characterized. The specificity of the antibody was confirmed by the presence in squamous differentiated bronchial cells of specific 106-kD and 92-kD bands by Western blotting. In addition, immunohistochemistry displayed a recognized pattern of labeling in both normal and tumor cells beneath the cytoplasmic membrane and within the cytosol. TGase 1 was shown to be expressed by cells from bronchial epithelium and bronchial preinvasive lesions, strongly expressed in most non-small-cell lung cancer tumor cells and in apoptotic bodies, but weakly expressed in small-cell lung cancer. The distribution of TGase 1 mRNA correlated with the immunohistochemical profile. These observations suggest that TGase 1 expression is a normal feature of bronchial epithelium and is linked to the process of squamous differentiation occurring in preinvasive lesions. Its role in lung cancer remains to be clarified.