All known laminin isoforms are cross-shaped heterotrimeric molecules, consisting of one heavy alpha chain and two light beta and gamma chains. Recently, a cDNA encoding a new gamma chain from laminin 5 (also known as kalinin) was sequenced. This chain, named gamma 2, showed extended homology to the classical gamma 1 chain but differed from this by lacking the terminal globular domain. Recent data, indicating an important role of the gamma 2 chain gene in establishing adhesion contacts between epithelial cells and basement membranes, prompted us to investigate whether the gamma 2 chain gene is aberrantly expressed in cancer tissue, and if so whether its localization could provide clues to its possible role in cancer dissemination. Routinely processed tissue specimens from 36 cases of human cancer were investigated, including 16 cases of colon adenocarcinoma, 7 ductal mammary carcinomas, 4 squamous cell carcinomas, 3 malignant melanomas and 6 sarcomas. In situ hybridization for the detection of mRNAs for the gamma 2 chain and for the classical laminin chains alpha 1, beta 1, and gamma 1 was performed using S-35 labeled antisense RNA probes. As positive control of the specificity of the gamma 2 chain mRNA detection, two different anti-sense probes derived from two nonoverlapping cDNA clones were used. Malignant cells were found to express the gamma 2 chain in 29 of the 30 carcinomas studied and the expression was particularly high in cancer cells located at the invasion front. In contrast, mesenchymally derived cancer cells in three different types of sarcomas did not express the gamma 2 chain. In colon cancer there was a clear histological correlation between the expression of gamma 2 chain by cancer cells and their engagement in tumor budding processes. Laminin chains alpha 1, beta 1, and gamma 1 were weakly expressed throughout cancerous areas with no apparent correlation to sites of invasion. The aberrant expression of the gamma 2 chain gene seen in invasively growing cancer cells point to a role of this molecule in establishing focal adhesions of cancer cells to the extracellular matrix during their migration through surrounding normal tissue.