Using messenger RNA (mRNA) differential display, we identified a single complementary DNA (cDNA) fragment (HG23T1) that was over-expressed in a hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) specimen. We cloned the full-length HG23T1 gene by the rapid amplification of cDNA end (RACE) polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method. It perfectly matched the gene encoding human ribosomal protein L36a (RPL36A also referred to as RPL44). RPL36A mRNA was preferentially over-expressed in 34 of 40 HCC cases (85%, P <.001) and in all of 8 HCC cell lines. Ectopically over-expressed L36a ribosomal protein localized in the nucleoli of cells, and this localization seemed to be controlled by the N-terminal or the internal tetrapeptide consensus with its adjacent N-terminal domain. Over-expression of L36a led to enhanced colony formation and cell proliferation, which may have resulted from rapid cell cycling, and an antisense cDNA effectively reversed these alterations. In conclusion, RPL36A plays a role in tumor cell proliferation and may be a potential target for anticancer therapy of HCC.