Defective DNA mismatch repair in neoplasia is manifested by extra, aberrant bands within multiple microsatellite markers. The replication error (RER) phenotype is present in most colorectal and endometrial carcinomas in patients with the hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal carcinoma syndrome. In addition, a minority of sporadic colorectal and endometrial carcinomas are RER positive. RER in sporadic colorectal carcinomas has been associated with improved prognosis, but its clinical significance in sporadic endometrial cancer has not been characterized. We analyzed DNA extracted from 109 formalin-fixed sporadic endometrial carcinomas for microsatellite instability. The RER-positive phenotype was demonstrated by microsatellite instability in more than one of the eight dinucleotide markers tested. RER was correlated with pathological and clinical parameters as well as with immunohistochemical staining for the p53 gene product and alterations in codon 12 of Ki-ras. Nine percent of the endometrial carcinomas were RER positive, and RER was significantly associated with high grade and adverse outcome. We found no significant correlation of RER with histological subtype, stage, depth of invasion, mutations in the 12th codon of Ki-ras, or p53 immunoreactivity. We conclude that the RER phenotype is present in a minority of sporadic endometrial carcinomas and is associated with high grade and poor prognosis.