When activated, the serine/threonine kinase AKT mediates an antiapoptotic signal implicated in chemoresistance of various cancers. The mechanism(s) of AKT activation are unknown, though overexpression of HER-2/neu has been implicated in breast cancer. Therefore, we determined the incidence of activated AKT in human pancreatic cancer, whether HER-2/neu is involved in AKT activation, and if AKT activation is associated with biologic behaviour. HER-2/neu expression and AKT activation were examined in seven pancreatic cancer cell lines by Western blotting. The in vitro effect of HER-2/neu inhibition on AKT activation was similarly determined. Finally, 78 pancreatic cancer specimens were examined for AKT activation and HER-2/neu overexpression, and correlated with the clinical prognostic variable of histologic grade. HER-2/neu was overexpressed in two of seven cell lines; these two cell lines demonstrated the highest level of AKT activation. Inhibition of HER-2/neu reduced AKT activation in vitro. AKT was activated in 46 out of 78 (59%) of the pancreatic cancers; HER-2/neu overexpression correlated with AKT activation (P=0.015). Furthermore, AKT activation was correlated with higher histologic tumour grade (P=0.047). Thus, it is concluded that AKT is frequently activated in pancreatic cancer; this antiapoptotic signal may be mediated by HER-2/neu overexpression. AKT activation is associated with tumour grade, an important prognostic factor.