PLK (polo-like kinase), the human counterpart of polo in Drosophila melanogaster and of CDC5 in Saccharomyces cerevisiae, belongs to a family of serine/threonine kinases. It is intimately involved in spindle formation and chromosome segregation during mitosis. The purpose of this study was to determine whether PLK1 is overexpressed in primary colorectal cancer specimens as compared with normal colon mucosa and to assess its relation to other kinases as a potential new tumor marker. In the present study, immunohistochemical analyses were performed of PLK1 expression in 78 primary colorectal cancers as well as 15 normal colorectal specimens. Furthermore, we examined the relationship between other kinases, Aurora-A and Aurora-C, and PLK1 expression. In normal colon mucosa, some crypt cells showed weakly positive staining for PLK1 in 13 out of 15 cases, the remaining cases being negative. Elevated expression of PLK1 was observed in 57 (73.1%) of the colorectal cancers, statistically significant associations being evident with pT (primary tumor invasion) (P=0.0006, Mann-Whitney U test), pN (regional lymph nodes) (P=0.008, chi2 test) and the Dukes' classification (P=0.0005, Mann-Whitney U test). Mean proliferating cell nuclear antigen-labeling index was 52.3%, with a range of 24.1% to 77.3%. Values for lesions with high and low PLK1 expression were 54.7+/-10.3% (mean+/-SD) and 45.9+/-11.9% (P=0.002, Student's t test). PLK1 was significantly associated with Aurora-A, but PLK1 staining was more diffuse and extensive than for Aurora-A or Aurora-C. Interestingly, PLK1 overexpression was significantly associated with p53 accumulation in colorectal cancers. Our results suggest overexpression of PLK1 might be of pathogenic, prognostic and proliferative importance, so that this kinase might have potential as a new tumor marker for colorectal cancers.