The desmocollins are members of the desmosomal cadherin family of cell-cell adhesion molecules. They are essential constituents of desmosomes, intercellular junctions that play a critical role in the maintenance of tissue integrity in epithelia and cardiac muscle. In humans, three desmocollins (Dsc1, Dsc2 and Dsc3) have been described. The desmocollins exhibit tissue-specific patterns of expression; only Dsc2 is expressed in normal colonic epithelium. We have found switching between desmocollins in sporadic colorectal adenocarcinoma with a reduction in Dsc2 protein (in 8/16 samples analysed by immunohistochemistry) being accompanied by de novo expression of Dsc1 (16/16) and Dsc3 (7/16). Similar results were obtained by western blotting of a further 16 samples. No change was found in Dsc2 mRNA, but de novo expression of Dscs 1 and 3 was accompanied by increased message levels. Loss of Dsc2 (8/19) and de novo expression of Dsc1 (11/19) and Dsc3 (6/19) was also found in colorectal adenocarcinomas on a background of colitis. The data raise the possibility that switching of desmocollins could play an important role in the development of colorectal cancer.