Both amplification and overexpression of c-erb B-2/neu have been associated with the progression and possible prognosis of a number of human cancers. In this study, we demonstrated that c-erb B-2/neu may also play an important role in human prostate cancer. Our conclusion is based on the following observations: (1) A monoclonal antibody raised against a peptide sequence from the C-terminal domain of the human c-erb B-2/neu gene product reacted positively with 68.7% (11 of 16) of the human prostatic cancer tissue extracts analyzed by western blot procedure. These results were supported by the immunohistochemical staining of the prostatic cancer specimens; 80% (12 of 15) showed positive staining, primarily around the plasma membranes of the prostatic cancer cells. c-erb B-2/neu oncoprotein was not detectable in normal prostate tissues (five examined by immunohistochemical staining and three by western blotting) or in human benign prostatic hyperplasia (two examined by immunohistochemical staining and six by western blotting) and was expressed less abundantly with lower intensity in "normal" human prostate tissues adjacent to cancerous prostate tissue (5 of 12 examined by immunohistochemical staining). We observed no evidence of c-erb B-2/neu gene amplification in 10 fresh human prostatic cancer specimens examined by Southern blotting and in the cultured human prostatic cancer cell lines PC-3, DU-145, and LNCaP. (2) The c-erb B-2/neu protein was detected in both androgen-receptor-positive (LNCaP) and -negative (PC-3 and DU-145) human prostate cancer cell lines. Positive immunostaining of c-erb B-2/neu protein was found to be associated predominantly with the plasma membranes of PC-3 cells, but was also found to be widespread in the cytoplasmic region of the LNCaP cells and in the perinuclear region of the DU-145 cells. (3) Like prostate-specific antigen (PSA) expression, c-erb B-2/neu mRNA expression was also positively regulated by androgen in androgen-receptor-positive LNCaP cells in vitro and LNCaP tumors in vivo. When LNCaP tumors were grown in castrated male hosts, levels of c-erb B-2/neu and PSA mRNA expression decreased initially, but rebounded at 3 wk to levels comparable to those expressed by tumors maintained in intact adult male hosts.