Napsin A is an aspartic proteinase expressed in lung and kidney. We have reported that napsin A is expressed in type II pneumocytes and in adenocarcinomas of the lung. The expression of napsin was examined in 118 lung tissues including 16 metastases by in situ hybridisation. Napsin was expressed in the tumour cell compartment in 33 of 39 adenocarcinomas (84.6%), in two of 11 large cell carcinomas and in one lung metastasis of a renal cell carcinoma. Expression of napsin was found to be associated with a high degree of differentiation in adenocarcinoma. Immunohistochemistry was performed for three proteins currently used as markers for lung adenocarcinoma : surfactant protein-A, surfactant protein-B and thyroid transcription factor-1. Thyroid transcription factor-1 showed the same sensitivity (84.6%) as napsin for adenocarcinoma, whereas surfactant protein-A and surfactant protein-B showed lower sensitivities. Among these markers, napsin showed the highest specificity (94.3%) for adenocarcinoma in nonsmall cell lung carcinoma. We conclude that napsin is a promising marker for the diagnosis of primary lung adenocarcinoma.