To investigate the role of c-KIT receptor in melanocytic tumour development and progression, we analysed the expression and localization of c-KIT by immunohistochemistry and Western blotting. In contrast to the positive staining shown by melanocytes and naevus cells in the epidermis of common naevi (n=20), all dysplastic naevi (n=13) were negative, as were dermal melanocytic cells of blue naevi (n = 4) and common naevi (n = 26). Three out of four superficial spreading melanomas lost c-KIT expression both in the epidermal and dermal parts, while nodular melanomas showed no expression of c-KIT except in partially positive cells, and six out of seven metastatic melanomas were negative. In acral lentiginous melanomas (n = 8), in contrast to other types of melanoma, all cases with melanoma cells growing basally in the epidermis showed strong c-KIT positivity, but melanoma cells growing at the upper layers of the epidermis and vertically into the dermis lost c-KIT expression. Using the Western blot method on cultured pigment cells, human epidermal melanocytes, junctional naevus cells and one out of three metastatic melanoma cell lines showed 125 and 145 kDa bands corresponding to c-KIT, whereas dermal naevus cells did not. These results suggest that dysplastic naevi are distinct from ordinary naevi in terms of c-KIT expression and that basally growing cells in acral lentigenous melanomas could be at an initial stage of tumour progression, before c-KIT loss occurs.