To facilitate an understanding of how androgens participate in the genesis of human benign hyperplasia and carcinoma we assayed androgen receptor in the epithelium and stroma of human prostatic tissue from 57 patients. Immunohistochemical staining of human androgen receptor was performed on 106 sections of normal prostate, benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and prostate cancer. To determine variability of androgen receptor staining sections taken from different portions of the gland were studied. Frozen tissue sections were incubated with monoclonal antiandrogen receptor antibodies and staining was completed by the indirect avidin-biotin peroxidase method. Antibody staining was found mainly in the nucleus of prostatic epithelial cells, although some stromal cells also showed positive staining. Unlike normal prostate, there was a heterogeneous distribution of androgen receptor in BPH and prostate cancer. The androgen receptor content in well differentiated adenocarcinoma epithelium was significantly higher compared to moderately (p less than 0.05) and poorly (p less than 0.05) differentiated adenocarcinoma. Regardless of the origin of stromal tissue, some staining was observed. In each specimen studied the androgen receptor staining was consistent qualitatively and quantitatively for each pathological component throughout the specimen. These data confirm that androgen receptor is a nuclear receptor protein. Furthermore, they show the ability of monoclonal antibodies to reveal cellular/subcellular distribution of androgen receptor, and demonstrate a correlation between the degree of tumor differentiation and androgen receptor content in epithelial but not in stromal cells. These observations may have important implications for understanding the variable tumor response to hormone therapy.