The mitogenic activity of epidermal growth factor (EGF) is mediated by a cell surface receptor (EGF-R) which has been identified in human prostate tissues. Because of conflicting reports on the relative levels of EGF-R in prostate tumors as measured by binding of radiolabelled EGF, we have examined EGF-R expression at the level of the specific messenger RNA using a sensitive RNase protection assay. Expression of the mRNA for EGF-R was higher in carcinoma (CaP, N = 38) than in benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH, N = 35) samples (p less than 0.01). The highest levels of EGF-R mRNA were found in the human prostatic carcinoma cell lines, PC-3 and DU145. Among the CaP samples, there was an association of higher EGF-R mRNA levels with higher tumor extent and dedifferentiation. Since EGF has also been found in prostatic tissues, the enhanced expression of the EGF-R gene may play a role in the growth of prostate tumors, possibly by an autocrine pathway.