The pattern of cytokeratins expressed in normal urothelium has been compared with that of various forms of transitional cell carcinomas (TCCs; 21 cases) and cultured bladder carcinoma cell lines, using immunolocalization and gel electrophoretic techniques. In normal urothelium, all simple-epithelium-type cytokeratins (polypeptides 7, 8, 18, 19) were detected in all cell layers, whereas antibodies to cytokeratins typical for stratified epithelia reacted with certain basal cells only or, in the case of cytokeratin 13, with cells of the basal and intermediate layers. This pattern was essentially maintained in low-grade (G1, G1/2) TCCs but was remarkably modified in G2 TCCs. In G3 TCCs simple-epithelial cytokeratins were predominant whereas the amounts of component 13 were greatly reduced. Squamous metaplasia was accompanied generally by increased or new expression of some stratified-epithelial cytokeratins. The cytokeratin patterns of cell culture lines RT-112 and RT-4 resembled those of G1 and G2 TCCs, whereas cell line T-24 was comparable to G3 carcinomas. The cell line EJ showed a markedly different pattern. The results indicate that, in the cell layers of the urothelium, the synthesis of stratification-related cytokeratins such as component 13 is inversely oriented compared with that in other stratified epithelia where these proteins are suprabasally expressed, that TCCs retain certain intrinsic cytoskeletal features of urothelium, and that different TCCs can be distinguished by their cytokeratin patterns. The potential value of these observations in histopathologic and cytologic diagnoses is discussed.