We have used an avidin-biotin immunoperoxidase technique to localise epithelial cadherin (E-cadherin), a calcium-dependent cell-cell adhesion molecule, in 107 paraffin-embedded sections from 93 patients consisting of 24 with colorectal adenoma, 55 with rectal carcinoma and 14 with liver metastases. The corresponding primary colorectal tumours were also studied in these cases. E-cadherin was expressed by normal colorectal epithelial cells with typical membranous staining at the intercellular junctions. Loss of normal membranous E-cadherin expression and presence of cytoplasmic staining were found frequently in adenomas larger than 1 cm (P < 0.01), with high grade dysplasia and villous histology (P < 0.01). In primary rectal cancers, loss of membranous expression correlated with high tumour grade. No correlation was seen with Dukes and Jass stage, local extramural spread and 5-year recurrence rate. Complete loss of membranous E-cadherin immunoreactivity was seen in 7/14 (50%) liver metastases in which 6/7 (86%) showed intense membranous E-cadherin immunoreactivity in the corresponding primary tumour. Our data indicate that changes in E-cadherin immunoreactivity and cellular localisation correlate with size, severe dysplasia in adenomas and tumour grade in carcinomas. However, there seems to be no correlation between loss of membranous E-cadherin immunoreactivity and the invasive and metastatic potential of the carcinomas.