The oncoprotein encoded by bc1-2 is unique because of its intracellular location (a mitochondrial membrane protein) and apparent mode of action (suppression of apoptosis). To date, this oncogene has been associated only with the development of certain forms of human B-cell lymphoma. In this report, we describe our experience with a monoclonal antibody made against a synthetic peptide for bc1-2 that can recognize the bc1-2 protein and identify cells in human prostate glands expressing this proto-oncogene with in situ immunohistochemical procedures. These procedures were utilized to survey a series of 62 human tissues to evaluate whether bc1-2 might have a role in the developing prostate gland or in prostate oncogenesis. While all primordial epithelial cells in a fetal prostate gland immunostain for bc1-2, normal and hypertrophic prostate glands of the adult show bc1-2 expression restricted to the basal cells. All epithelial cells in areas of prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia were stained by this antibody, as were most (62%) localized invasive prostatic carcinomas. In contrast, all primary prostatic carcinomas and metastases obtained from metastatic prostate cancer patients after hormone treatment (hormone-refractory tumors) stained positive for bc1-2. This study demonstrates that the oncoprotein encoded by bc1-2 can be detected at sequential stages in the natural history of human prostate cancer. Since the bc1-2 oncoprotein is known to suppress the cellular response to apoptotic stimuli, it will be important to determine whether bc1-2 expression is a factor in the development of prostate cancers and in the survival of hormone-refractory prostate cancer cells.