Mutations in the WT1 tumor suppressor gene are known to contribute to the development of Wilms' tumor (WT) and associated gonadal abnormalities. WT1 is expressed principally in the fetal kidney, developing gonads, and spleen and also in the mesothelium, which lines the coelomic cavities. These tissues develop from mesenchymal components that have subsequently become epithelialized, and it has therefore been proposed that WT1 may play a role in this transition of cell types. To test the possible involvement of this gene in malignant mesothelioma, we have first studied its expression in a panel of human normal and malignant mesothelial cell lines. WT1 mRNA expression levels varied greatly between the cell lines and no specific chromosomal aberration on 11p, which could be related to the variation in WT1 expression in these cell lines, was observed. Furthermore, no gross deletions rearrangements, or functionally inactivating point mutations in the WT1 coding region were identified. All four WT1 splice variants were observed at similar levels in these cell lines. The WT1 gene encodes a zinc-finger transcription factor and the four protein isoforms are each believed to act as transcriptional repressors of certain growth factor genes. Lack of WTI expression in thus predicted to result in growth stimulation of tumor cells. Binding of one particular WT1 isoform construct to the insulin-like growth factor 2 (IGF2) and platelet-derived growth factor A (PDGFA) gene promoters has been demonstrated to result in repression of these genes in transient transfection studies. Analysis of IGF2 and PDGFA mRNA expression levels compared with WTI mRNA expression levels failed to demonstrate an inverse correlation in the mesothelial cell lines, which endogenously express these genes. Finally, the putative role of WT1 in the transition of cell types was investigated. No obvious correlation between WT1 expression levels and cell morphology of the malignant mesothelial cell lines was evident from this study. Moreover, no change in WT1 expression was observed in normal mesothelial cells which were, by alteration of culture conditions, manipulated to switch from the mesenchymal to epithelial morphology.