The expression of the proteins encoded by the ras, myc, and erb B-2 oncogenes was examined in 63 paraffin-embedded human cholangiocarcinomas of Thai and English origin using immunohistochemistry. The observed distributions were compared with oncogene expression in a series of human hepatocellular carcinomas. In an attempt to relate expression of these three oncogenes to specific stages of normal tissue differentiation, tissue sections of normal fetal, infant, and adult human livers were also examined. Of 63 cholangiocarcinomas, 59 (95%) expressed p62 c-myc, 47 (75%) expressed p21 c-ras, and 46 (73%) expressed p190 c-erbB-2. The expression of c-myc and c-ras but not of c-erb B-2 correlated directly with tumor differentiation as judged by morphologic criteria. No difference was observed in oncogene expression between intrahepatic and extrahepatic cholangiocarcinomas. Twelve of 14 hepatocellular carcinomas (86%) stained positively for all three oncoproteins. During normal liver development, expression of c-myc and c-ras was shown to occur from 18 weeks' gestation until 5 years of age, but not thereafter. Expression of c-myc, c-ras, and c-erbB-2 oncogenes may be used as immunohistochemical markers to distinguish cholangiocarcinoma from nonneoplastic biliary tissues, and may provide useful information concerning the cell biology of tumor differentiation.