To obtain more insight into the proliferative function of basal and secretory cell types in human prostate, we studied the immunoprofile of three well-characterized proliferation-associated antigens (Ki-67, PCNA, MIB 1) in normal and hyperplastic prostate tissue. Distinction between labeled basal and secretory cell types was made by simultaneous demonstration of the proliferation-associated antigens and basal cell-specific cytokeratins in identical sections. In normal and hyperplastic acini, approximately 70% of labeled cells were of the basal cell phenotype. These data clearly suggest that the proliferative compartment of the normal and hyperplastic epithelium is located in the basal cell layer. Compared to normal and hyperplastic conditions, severe proliferative abnormalities were detected in high-grade prostate intraepithelial neoplasias (PIN), as documented by the extension of the proliferative compartment up to the luminal border. Conversely, approximately 70% of proliferating cells detected in atypical hyperplasias that progressed in invasive carcinomas were localized in the remaining basal cell layer. These findings may indicate the proliferative role of basal cells in the epithelial renewal, and the development of hyperplastic and neoplastic disorders in the human prostate.