The POU-domain transcription factor OCT4 is associated with the pluripotent state of cells comprising the inner cell mass of pre-implantation embryos and has been known to play a critical role in the maintenance of pluripotency of embryonic stem cells. Reactivation of OCT4 expression is postulated to occur in differentiated cells that have undergone carcinogenesis, or tumor formation. In contrast to earlier studies, recent reports describe OCT4 expression in several human tumor cell lines. To resolve the apparent discrepancy in OCT4 expression between earlier and recent studies, we determined OCT4 expression in the cervical carcinoma cell line HeLa and the breast cancer cell line MCF7 in comparison with the human teratoma cell line nTera by immunofluorescence, Western blot, and RT-PCR analyses. We were unable to detect staining of the OCT4 transcription factor in the nucleus of HeLa and MCF7 cells by immunofluorescence using two different monoclonal antibodies. Faint cytoplasmic staining in HeLa and MCF7 cells was observed; however, no OCT4 signal could be detected by Western blot analysis. In addition, we were unable to detect significant levels of OCT4 mRNA in HeLa and in MCF7 cells by RT-PCR. Furthermore, the OCT4 promoter region is highly methylated in HeLa and MCF7 cells. We argue that recent reports of OCT4 expression in these and other cancer cell lines could actually be attributed to OCT4 pseudogene expression or misinterpretation of background signals in immunofluorescence experiments. In conclusion, we emphasize the need for adequate controls in investigations of OCT4 expression in somatic cell lines by immunofluorescence and RT-PCR.