The present studies investigated the expression of the two PDGF genes (c-sis/PDGF-2 and PDGF-1) and the PDGF-receptor b gene (PDGF-R) in 34 primary human astrocytomas. Northern blot analysis demonstrated the coexpression of the c-sis/PDGF-2 protooncogene and the PDGF-R gene in all astrocytomas examined. The majority of the tumors also expressed the PDGF-1 gene. There was no correlation between the expression of the two PDGF genes. Nonmalignant human brain tissue expressed the PDGF-R and PDGF-1 genes but not the c-sis/PDGF-2 protooncogene. In situ hybridization of astrocytoma tissue localized the expression of the c-sis and PDGF-R mRNA's in tumor cells. Capillary endothelial cells also expressed c-sis mRNA. In contrast, nonmalignant human brain tissue expressed only PDGF-R mRNA but not c-sis/PDGF-2 mRNA. The coexpression of a potent mitogenic growth factor protooncogene (c-sis) and its receptor gene in astrocytoma tumor cells suggests the presence of an autocrine mechanism that may contribute to the development and maintenance of astrocytomas. The expression of c-sis mRNA in tumor cells but not in nonmalignant brain cells may serve as an additional diagnostic criterion for the detection of astrocytomas in small tissue specimen using in situ hybridization for the detection of c-sis mRNA and/or immunostaining for the recognition of its protein product.