Although expression of the bcl-2 protein has been investigated in a number of non-haematological malignancies, little is known of its distribution in premalignant lesions. Expression of bcl-2 was investigated immunohistochemically in archival biopsies of normal (n = 8) and dysplastic bronchial epithelium (n = 56) and in 31 bronchial resection margins and their corresponding carcinomas. All dysplasias had lost the prominent basal staining pattern seen in histologically normal epithelium. Two were negative and six had occasional basal positive cells. In 37 cases up to 66% of the epithelial cells throughout the full epithelial thickness were bcl-2 positive with weak to moderate staining intensity. In 11 cases, all severe dysplasias, strong expression was observed in > 90% of the epithelial cells. Four patterns of bcl-2 expression in dysplasias were identified and an increasingly aberrant pattern of bcl-2 expression correlated with an increasing grade of dysplasia (Spearman's rank correlation, P < or = 0.0001). Sixty-five per cent of the carcinomas contained bcl-2-positive cells. Patients with non-small-cell lung carcinomas (n = 27) in which > 50% of the tumour cells were bcl-2 positive showed a survival advantage compared with those with 0-25% bcl-2-positive cells (P = 0.02). No correlation was found between p53 expression (Walker et al., 1994) and bcl-2 expression in dysplasias or carcinomas.