Expression of intermediate filaments (IF) is regulated during development and differentiation. The authors have studied the expression of vimentin and cytokeratins (CK) 4, 7, 8, 13, 18, 19 in normal pancreas, chronic pancreatitis, and pancreas cancer using monoclonal antibodies. Immunohistochemical assays were performed on fresh frozen tissue sections and on cultured pancreas cancer cells using the streptavidin-peroxidase method. In normal pancreas, acinar cells expressed CK 8 and 18, whereas ductal cells expressed CK 7, 8, 18, and 19. CK 4 was expressed by 5-10% of pancreas duct cells in all specimens of normal pancreas. CK 13 was not detected in any epithelial cells of normal pancreas or pancreatitis. CK 7, 8, 18, and 19 were homogeneously expressed in all pancreas cancers, whereas CK 4 was expressed only in 5-50% of cells in 10/16 tumors. Foci of squamous metaplasia expressed CK 13 but showed partial loss of expression of CK 7, 8, 18, and 19. Thirteen pancreas cancer cell lines examined showed homogeneous expression of CK 7, 8, 18, and 19; 2/11 lines expressed CK 4 weakly, and 6/11 expressed vimentin. CK 13 was not detected in any of the lines. These results indicate that pancreas cancer cells consistently express cytokeratin polypeptides characteristic of ductal epithelial cells and that this phenotype is retained in pancreas cancer cell lines. In addition, squamous metaplasia is associated with a coordinate change in the expression of CK polypeptides.