Increased secretion of matrix metalloproteinases and serine proteinases is well known to be associated with cancer invasion and metastasis. We aimed to elucidate the implication of trypsin, a serine proteinase and a representative digestive enzyme in invasion and metastasis of human carcinomas. Northern blot, RT-PCR and Western blot analyses and immunohistochemical studies were performed to detect and analyze trypsinogen expression in 5 ovarian carcinoma cell lines and 10 human ovarian carcinoma tissues using a DNA probe for trypsinogen I, and monoclonal and polyclonal antibodies to human trypsin I. Among the 5 ovarian carcinoma cell lines, only the MCAS (mucinous cystadenocarcinoma) cell line showed a high level of trypsinogen production and mRNA expression by Western and Northern blot analyses, respectively. However, Southern blot analysis of RT-PCR products could detect considerable levels of trypsinogen mRNA in all ovarian cancer cell lines. In Northern analysis of ovarian cancer tissues, all advanced cancer samples showed trypsinogen gene expression. Serous cystadenocarcinomas exhibited particularly high levels of gene expression. Immunohistochemical staining also detected trypsin in ovarian carcinoma tissues. In contrast, normal ovaries and tumors with low malignant potential did not show trypsinogen expression. Our results demonstrate the extra-pancreatic production and distribution of trypsinogen in human ovarian carcinomas.