Stem cell factor (SCF) is a pluripotent growth factor which is suggested to play an important role in proliferation and differentiation in various types of fetal and adult tissues as the ligand of the c-kit proto-oncogene product. However, very little is known about expression of the SCF gene in human malignancies. We analysed DNA and RNA extracted from 28 cell lines and 16 fresh tumor specimens of lung cancer as well as 24 cancer cell lines of various origin for SCF expression. Now we report that the SCF gene is expressed in a wide variety of human cancers including lung cancer, in marked contrast to c-kit, which is expressed in very few types of cancers. As a consequence, coexpression of both the ligand and the receptor is seen only in small-cell lung cancer, suggesting possible involvement of autocrine stimulation via this ligand-receptor system in the pathogenesis of this aggressive cancer. In addition, this study revealed that the human SCF gene is transcribed into two major forms of alternatively spliced mRNAs with different molar ratio in fetal, adult and malignant tissues.