We investigated the expression pattern of neprilysin (CD10), aminopeptidase N (CD13) and angiotensin-I converting enzyme (CD143) in hepatocellular carcinomas (HCC), and their putative roles in hepatocarcinogenesis. Tissue samples were obtained from 31 patients with HCC. Tissue samples obtained from non-neoplastic liver, fetal livers and focal nodular hyperplasias (FNH) were used by comparison. Transcription and expression of CD10, CD13, and CD143 were studied by quantitative RT-PCR, Western blotting, and immunohistochemistry. Cell proliferation assays were performed with the C3A hepatoma cell line. The mRNA and protein of each of CD10, CD13 and CD143 were differentially expressed in HCCs. CD10 was decreased in HCCs as compared to non-neoplastic liver tissue, while CD13 and CD143 were mildly increased. In fetal liver and FNHs, the expression of CD10 was less intense than in the surrounding non-tumorous liver. The expression patterns of CD13 and CD143 in fetal livers and FNHs were similar to HCCs and were predominantly localized in bile canaliculi (CD13) and endothelial cells (CD143). CD10 and CD13 mRNAs were expressed by C3A cells and blocking either CD10 or CD13 ectopeptidase activity retarded cell growth significantly in vitro. We demonstrate that ectopeptidases are differentially expressed in HCCs and may have influence on tumor biology. Overall, expression of CD10 in non-neoplastic and neoplastic hepatocytes appears to correlate inversely with their state of proliferation or differentiation. CD13 shows a characteristic canalicular distribution pattern and may be important for cell polarization and bile compartmentalization in HCCs, while CD143 may influence angiogenesis.