The fragile histidine triad (FHIT) gene, located at chromosome 3p14.2, is deleted in many solid tumors, including lung cancer. Its protein product is presumed to have tumor suppressor function. We investigated the incidence of loss of heterozygosity and loss of FHIT expression in a series of non-small-cell lung carcinomas and its correlation to apoptosis, proliferation index and prognosis. FHIT expression was determined by immunohistochemistry in formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tissues from 54 squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) and 44 adenocarcinomas (AC) of the lung. DNA from frozen tumor and corresponding normal tissues were analyzed for allelic losses at two loci located internal (D3S1300, D3S1234) and three loci in flanking regions centromeric and telomeric (D3S1210, D3S1312, D3S1313) to the FHIT gene. Apoptosis was detected by terminal deoxynucleotidyltransferase-mediated dUTP nick end labeling (TUNEL). Proliferation index was determined with ki-67 and flow cytometric analysis. We correlated the results with tumor histology, prognosis and some immunohistochemical markers (p53, bcl-2, bax, c-myc, p21(waf1), cyclin-D1). FHIT expression was related to tumor histology: 52 of 54 (96.3%) SCC and 20 of 44 (45.5%) AC were negative for FHIT (P<0.0001). We found LOH at 3p14.2 in 67.8% of the 98 cases: 72.3% of SCC and 61.4% of AC. Loss of FHIT expression was associated with a higher proliferation index (ki-67, P=0.007; flow cytometry, P<0.004) and lower apoptotic index (P=0.018). LOH at FHIT gene were associated to a high proliferation (flow cytometry, P<0.001) and lower apoptotic level (P=0.043). The log-rank test demonstrated a significant inverse correlation (P=0.039) between loss of FHIT expression and patient survival. FHIT plays an important role in the development of non-small-cell lung cancer, particularly in SCC. Loss of FHIT protein is correlated with a high proliferation and low apoptotic index in tumor cells, and is an independent prognostic indicator for the clinical outcome in patients with these tumors.