The conventional assessment of the premalignant potential of Barrett's oesophagus is unsatisfactory. However, it has recently been shown that abnormalities of growth-regulatory peptides and their receptors may be important in the pathogenesis of this condition. In an attempt to improve the diagnostic and prognostic criteria we have studied 21 consecutive patients with Barrett's oesophagus and 7 others with adenocarcinoma of the oesophagus. In each patient biopsy specimens were taken from the columnarlined oesophagus or the adenocarcinoma and from the gastric cardiac mucosa for routine histologic evaluation. Immediately adjacent specimens were taken from both the Barrett's mucosa or adenocarcinoma and from the gastric mucosa for flow-cytometric study. The latter samples were disaggregated and labelled with antibodies to epidermal growth factor (EGF), transforming growth factor alpha (TGF-alpha), and epidermal growth factor receptor (EGF-R). The flow cytometer selected cells labelled with each antibody and expressed them as a percentage of the total number of disaggregated cells (average, 5500 cells). Epidermal growth factor receptors were expressed in a greater number of cells from Barrett's mucosa, with the intestinal type or those with dysplasia, than in gastric cardiac mucosa (p less than 0.05). All seven adenocarcinoma had many more cells expressing EGF, TGF-alpha, and EGF-R than normal gastric mucosa (p less than 0.01). We conclude that flow-cytometric evaluation of EGF-R can help in the understanding of the pathogenesis of Barrett's oesophagus.