Previously we demonstrated human papillomavirus type 16 DNA in a high proportion of benign hyperplastic (BPH) and cancerous (CaP) prostate specimens using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). While these data designate the prostate as a possible reservoir for sexual transmission of HPV, an etiological role for the virus in prostatic neoplasia is uncertain. Since transcription of the E6/E7 genes of HPV 16 is essential for both viral replication and cellular transformation, we sought to assess the transcriptional activity of HPV 16 found in prostate tissues. The E6/E7 viral gene transcripts were identified in 5 of 10 BPH specimens and 3 of 7 CaP specimens known to contain HPV 16 DNA. Expression of the HPV viral genes is not associated preferentially with either BPH or CaP, nor is transcription observed in all samples which contain the viral genome. These findings suggest that the prostate may act as a site for HPV replication, but that HPV is unlikely to be involved in the transformation of prostatic cells.