The role of oxidative stress in prostate cancer has been increasingly recognised. Acute and chronic inflammations generate reactive oxygen species that result in damage to cellular structures. Haeme oxygenase-1 (HO-1) has cytoprotective effects against oxidative damage. We hypothesise that modulation of HO-1 expression may be involved in the process of prostate carcinogenesis and prostate cancer progression. We thus studied HO-1 expression and localisation in 85 samples of organ-confined primary prostate cancer obtained via radical prostatectomy (Gleason grades 4-9) and in 39 specimens of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). We assessed HO-1 expression by immunohistochemical staining. No significant difference was observed in the cytoplasmic positive reactivity among tumours (84%), non-neoplastic surrounding parenchyma (89%), or BPH samples (87%) (P=0.53). Haeme oxygenase-1 immunostaining was detected in the nuclei of prostate cancer cells in 55 of 85 (65%) patients but less often in non-neoplastic surrounding parenchyma (30 of 85, 35%) or in BPH (9 of 39, 23%) (P<0.0001). Immunocytochemical and western blot analysis showed HO-1 only in the cytoplasmic compartment of PC3 and LNCaP prostate cancer cell lines. Treatment with hemin, a well-known specific inducer of HO-1, led to clear nuclear localisation of HO-1 in both cell lines and highly induced HO-1 expression in both cellular compartments. These findings have demonstrated, for the first time, that HO-1 expression and nuclear localisation can define a new subgroup of prostate cancer primary tumours and that the modulation of HO-1 expression and its nuclear translocation could represent new avenues for therapy.