It is generally accepted that adenomatous polyps represent the natural precursor of many colorectal malignancies. The sequence, however, which leads from a normally appearing mucosa to cancer is complex and involves many steps, including a hyperproliferative mucosa with an upward expansion of the replicative compartment. The current study evaluates cell replication in normal colorectal mucosa of patients with adenomatous polyps of various types and relates the observed findings to the main clinical and morphologic features of adenomas. Forty-four patients with polyps and 27 controls entered the study. Samples of colorectal mucosa were taken at endoscopy and cell replication was evaluated with a standard autoradiographic procedure. Cell replication was expressed as labeling index (LI), in the whole crypt and in each of the five longitudinal compartments in which the crypts were divided. Total LI and LI per crypt compartment were significantly higher (P less than 0.02 and P less than 0.01, respectively) than in controls. There was no appreciable difference of LI values between patients with single or multiple, tubular or tubulovillous, small or large adenomas, but in all of these subgroups LI was significantly higher than in controls. In conclusion, in normally appearing colorectal mucosa of patients with adenomatous polyps there was a significant increase of cell replication and a marked upward expansion of the proliferative zone; these changes were more evident in the left colon and in the rectum. Finally, cell replication did not seem to be related to the number of polyps, to the most common histotypes, or to the pattern of recurrence.