In cancer patients, the ability to detect disseminated tumour cells in peripheral blood or bone marrow could improve prognosis and consent both early detection of metastatic disease and monitoring of the efficacy of systemic therapy. These objectives remain elusive mainly due to the lack of specific genetic markers for solid tumours. The use of surrogate tissue-specific markers can reduce the specificity of the assays and give rise to a clinically unacceptable false-positive rate. Mammaglobin (MAM) and maspin are two putative breast tissue-specific markers frequently used for detection of occult tumour cells in the peripheral blood, bone marrow and lymph nodes of breast cancer patients. In this study, it was evaluated whether MAM and maspin gene expression may be induced in the normal blood and bone marrow cells exposed to a panel of cytokines, including chemotactic factors (C5a, interleukin (IL)-8), LPS, proinflammatory cytokines (TNF-alpha, IL-1beta) and growth factors (IL-3, granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor, granulocyte colony-stimulating factor). The experimental data show that all cytokines included in the panel, except for IL-8, were able to induce maspin expression; on the contrary, MAM gene was never induced. These results suggest that MAM is more specific than maspin and that the possible interference of cytokines should be taken into account in interpreting molecular assays for detection of isolated tumour cells.