E-cadherin (E-CD), a cell adhesion molecule that plays a diverse role in cell-cell and cell-matrix interaction, has recently been associated with tumor invasion and metastasis. We evaluated the E-CD expression in 55 cases of urinary bladder papillary transitional cell carcinoma using a double-linked immunoalkaline phosphatase procedure on formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded specimens quantified as percentage positive staining area with the Roche RPW image analyzer (Roche Image Analysis Systems, Elon College, NC). The 10 grade I tumors stained intensely for E-CD (66%) and showed enhanced staining compared with normal transitional epithelium. The 20 grade II lesions stained moderately at 45%, and the 25 grade III lesions showed weak expression of E-CD with a 33% positive stain. This loss of expression for high-grade versus low-grade tumors was statistically significant (P < .02). There was a similar decrease in E-CD expression for high-stage versus low-stage specimens with 30 stage 0 and stage A cases having an average of 51% positive stain and 25 stage B, C, and D cases having an average stain of 33%. This difference was also statistically significant (P < .001). We conclude that loss of expression of E-CD in high-grade, high-stage urinary bladder transitional cell carcinoma is associated with significant bladder wall invasion, indicates potential for metastasis, and may be of clinical value in the assessment of prognosis and planning of therapy for patients with bladder tumors.