Transferrin receptors (TfR) were measured in benign and malignant prostatic cells by performing Scatchard analysis following the administration of 125I-transferrin. Established human prostate cancer cell lines (PC-3 and DU-145) as well as biologically aggressive variants (PC-3 ASC and PC-3 DES) were shown to possess significant levels of high affinity TfR when assessed in vitro. In contrast, TfR content was negligible in cultured stromal cell fractions derived from human benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) specimens. Scatchard analysis was also performed on in vivo derived prostatic tissues: tumors resulting from the subcutaneous xenografting of PC-3 ASC cells into athymic, nude mice and fresh BPH surgical specimens. These tissues were dissociated and their stromal and epithelial components separated. TfR were only detected in the epithelial component of both malignant and benign epithelial cells. PC-3 ASC tumor cells exhibited TfR levels comparable to their in vitro expression and these levels were 10-fold greater than in the BPH cells. These findings suggest that elevated TfRs may serve as another useful marker of the transformed phenotype within human prostate tumor systems.