Data obtained in experimental murine tumors and in clinical specimens of human breast cancer have suggested that the nm23 gene may function as a metastasis suppressor gene. In this report we examined the nm23 mRNA level in tumor tissue obtained from distant metastases in 33 patients with malignant melanoma. The gene was differentially expressed in the tumors with a 20-fold range in hybridization intensities. The levels of nm23 mRNA in benign nevi obtained from 12 of the 33 patients were relatively low, with a mean value of 17% of that in the melanomas. In attempts to relate the level of nm23 expression in the tumor metastases to progression of the disease, the time from biopsy of the primary tumor to the appearance of metastases was used as a clinical end point. It was found that patients developing metastases during the first 2 years after diagnosis had significantly lower levels of tumor nm23 expression (56% of the mean value) compared to patients with less aggressive disease (164%) (P < 0.0004). In concordance with previous data the association found here between low levels of nm23 mRNA and the malignant potential of melanomas suggests that the nm23 gene may be implicated in the mechanism of disease progression in some types of human cancer.