E-cadherin and catenins play key roles in cell adhesion and motility. Little is known about the changes in expression of these molecules in the progression of ovarian carcinomas. In the present study, the immunohistochemical expression of E-cadherin and alpha-, beta-, and gamma-catenins was examined in 77 cases of ovarian carcinoma. In addition, the expression of these molecules was evaluated in 26 matched pairs of primary and metastatic lesions of advanced ovarian carcinomas. Of the 77 primary lesions, positive staining for E-cadherin and alpha-, beta-, and gamma-catenin was observed in 75 (97%), 63 (82%), 71 (92%) and 57 (74%) cases, respectively. Positivity for E-cadherin and alpha-, beta-, and gamma-catenin was significantly decreased in stage III and IV tumors compared with stage I and II tumors, suggesting that expression of the cadherin-catenin complex is reduced with the advancing stages of a tumor. Interestingly, expression of E-cadherin and alpha-, beta-, and gamma-catenin in the lesions of peritoneal dissemination was significantly increased compared with the primary lesions. These findings suggest that expression of the cadherin-catenin complex changes markedly and that reexpression may occur during the peritoneal dissemination of ovarian carcinoma cells.