A systematic study of keratin expression in epidermal lesions (six actinic keratoses, 10 Bowen's disease, seven squamous cell carcinomas) has been undertaken by using a large panel of monospecific monoclonal antibodies to individual keratins. Expression of differentiation-specific keratins was frequently delayed or lost from dysplastic regions. Novel expression of the embryonic, or simple epithelial, keratins 8 and 18 was widely observed in intradermal areas of poorly differentiated squamous cell carcinomas. In addition, the most proliferative of in situ malignancies (Bowen's disease) also contained small numbers of cells expressing simple epithelial keratins. These observations suggest that the expression of simple epithelial keratins may be of functional importance in malignancy of keratinocytes and could be related to tumor invasion and/or to changes in epithelial-mesenchymal interactions.