The Polo-like kinase (PLK) family comprises three serine/threonine kinases, functionally involved in signal transduction pathways essential for the accomplishment of mitosis in both normal and malignant cells. Moreover, certain PLKs have been functionally linked to cytoskeletal reorganisation. In this study, the expression of PLK1 and PLK3 was determined immunohistochemically in tissue specimen of normal ovaries (n=9), cystadenomas (n=17), borderline tumours (n=13) and ovarian carcinomas (n=77). PLK 1 and PLK3 expression was low in normal ovarian surface epithelium and borderline tumours, with moderately higher expression levels in cystadenomas. In ovarian carcinomas, 26% of cases were PLK1 positive and 50.6% of cases were PLK3 positive. A positive correlation of both PLK1 and PLK3 expression with indicators of mitotic frequency could be established. The overexpression of either isoenzyme had an impact on patient prognosis with shortened survival time for patients with tumours positive for PLK1 (P=0.02) and PLK3 (P=0.02), but only PLK1 expression remained a prognostic factor in multivariate survival analysis (P=0.03). The results of this study, if interpreted in the context of recently published functional data, suggest that inhibition of PLKs might represent an interesting new targeted approach for chemotherapy of epithelial ovarian cancer. Furthermore, this study suggests that PLK1 is a novel independent prognostic marker in ovarian carcinomas.