Fatty acid synthetase (FAS) is induced by progesterone in MCF7 and T47D breast cancer cell lines. We studied a possible in vivo regulation of expression of this gene by looking for FAS RNA in human endometrial biopsies at various periods of the menstrual cycle, using a cloned cDNA FAS probe. By Northern blot analysis, we detected the 8-kilobase FAS RNA throughout the cycle in 7 uterine samples. RNA in situ hybridization analysis of frozen sections from 22 endometrial biopsies showed that FAS RNA was present during follicular and luteal phases of the menstrual cycle in stromal and epithelial cells. RNA levels were quantified by counting autoradiographic silver grains using a computer-aided image analyzer. FAS RNA levels were significantly higher in epithelial cells than in fibroblasts (P less than 2 x 10(-5]. Furthermore, in both cell types, mean FAS RNA concentrations were higher in biopsies removed during the luteal phase than the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle (P = 2 x 10(-3) and 9 x 10(-5), respectively). A 2- to 3-fold increase in FAS RNA levels between days 8-14 and days 22-24 was detected in 2 normal patients who had previously undergone 2 successive biopsies. This increase was not observed in 2 patients with low plasma estradiol and progesterone concentrations, indicating a probable dysovulation. We conclude that FAS normally increases in both stromal and epithelial endometrial cells during the luteal phase. This increase is probably due to progesterone, which implies that FAS is induced in normal endometrium, as demonstrated in breast cancer.