Oestrogen Receptor beta (ERbeta) may protect against prostate and mammary cell proliferation and malignant transformation. Epidemiological studies indicate that oestrogens may reduce colon cancer risk. Since ERalpha is minimally expressed in normal and malignant colon, the aim of this study was to investigate the expression of ERbeta in both normal colonic wall and colon cancer. ERbeta expression was evaluated by immunohistochemistry in 90 cases of colon adenocarcinoma and nearby (>30-cm away) normal colonic wall, using a monoclonal antibody. Moderate or strong nuclear immunostaining was detected in superficial and crypt epithelium, endothelial cells, vascular smooth muscle cells, lymphocytes, enteric neurons and smooth muscular cells of the normal colonic wall. Superficial epithelial cells in normal colon demonstrated a significantly higher ERbeta expression than colon adenocarcinoma cells in both genders. The decline in ERbeta expression paralleled the loss of differentiation of malignant colon cells, regardless of the tumour's localisation. These findings suggest a protective role for ERbeta against colon carcinogenesis.