Cytokeratin (CK) expression in tumors generally reflects the CK pattern of the corresponding normal epithelium. Pancreas cancers express CK of simple epithelia 7, 8, 18 and 19, as normal ductal cells. To analyze whether CK of complex or stratified epithelia are abnormally expressed in pancreas cancers, we have used polypeptide-specific mouse monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) detecting CK 5, CK 10, CK 13, CK 14 and CK 17, and an antibody detecting CK 13, CK 15 and CK 16. The streptavidin-peroxidase technique was applied on sections of fresh-frozen specimens of normal pancreas and of pancreas cancer. None of these polypeptides were expressed by normal acinar and centro-acinar cells. CK 5, CK 14 and CK 17 were expressed by less than 5% of cells in normal ducts, whereas CK 10, CK 13, CK 15 and CK 16 were not expressed at all. In tumors, CK 14, CK 15/16 and CK 17 were detected in the majority of cases studied; CK 5, CK 10 and CK 13 were present in a sub-population of pancreas cancers. CK of complex/stratified epithelia were detected in areas of glandular differentiation, but expression was more intense in areas of squamous differentiation. In pancreatitis adjacent to cancer, CK of complex/stratified epithelia were weakly detected or undetectable. These results suggest that up-regulation of these CK takes place in pancreas cancer. The CK phenotype may be of help in the differential diagnosis of this tumor.