Immunocytochemical studies using polyclonal antibodies to epidermal growth factor (EGF) and transforming growth factor (TGF) alpha and beta were performed on 20 cases of human gliomas. EGF immunoreactive material was detected in both benign and malignant glial tumors. In addition, EGF immunoreactive material was detected in normal brain. TGF-beta was detected in both benign and malignant tumors, but was not detected in normal brain. In contrast, TGF-alpha was highly conserved in its expression, occurring predominantly in malignant compared with benign or normal brain tissue (P less than 0.0001). In malignant gliomas, glioblastomas contained 76% TGF-alpha reactivity (immunoreactive product), and anaplastic types contained 85% reactivity. Benign gliomas contained only 13% TGF-alpha reactivity. These findings support the role of TGF-alpha as an oncoprotein marker in brain neoplasms.