The immunohistochemical expression of c-kit proto-oncogene product in 57 breast cancer tissues was studied using anti-c-kit proto-oncogene product antibody in comparison with 20 normal breast tissues and 58 benign breast tumours. In normal breast tissues, the c-kit proto-oncogene product was strongly expressed on cell membrane and/or cytoplasm of alveolar and ductal cells. The immunoreactive score (IRS) of c-kit proto-oncogene product in normal mammary epithelia was 6.22 +/- 2.11 (mean +/- s.d.). In benign breast diseases, the c-kit proto-oncogene product was detected heterogeneously with a reduced IRS (3.33 +/- 2.44). In breast cancer tissues, the expression of the immunoreactive c-kit proto-oncogene product was often deleted and the average IRS was significantly reduced compared to those of normal breast tissues or benign breast diseases tissues. Among benign diseases, the average IRS of intraductal papilloma was significantly reduced (1.34 +/- 1.70) and the staining intensity and pattern were found to be similar to those seen in breast cancer. The results in this study suggested that the c-kit proto-oncogene product is correlated with the growth control or the differentiation of normal breast epithelium. Also, the loss of the expression of this protein may indicate the change of the signal transduction in relation to malignant transformation in human mammary epithelium.