Previous studies have suggested that differential expression and/or activation of integrins facilitates metastatic progression in murine and human melanoma. While recent data show that the integrin alphavbeta3 is involved in tumor angiogenesis and that tumor growth may be abrogated by alphavbeta3 inhibitors in vitro, the clinical significance of beta3 integrin expression in human malignant melanoma is not known. To assess the prognostic value of beta3 integrin expression, we examined primary cutaneous melanomas from 160 patients followed for a mean of 98 months or until death. We quantified the percentage of tumor area stained with beta3 integrin Ab CD-61 using an image analyzer. beta3 integrin expression was detected in 107/160 primary melanomas (69%). beta3-integrin-positive (beta3+) tumors were thicker (mean 2.98 +/- 0.3 mm) than beta3-integrin-negative (beta3-) melanomas (mean 1.64 +/- 0.2 mm) (P = 0.002). Patients with beta3+ melanomas were more likely to relapse (57/107, 53%) and to die from disease (45/107, 42%) than those with beta3- tumors (6/53, 11%; and 4/53, 8%, respectively) (P < 0.001). Overall survival was greater for beta3- than for beta3+ patients (mean 102 +/- 9 vs 69 +/- 6 months) (P = 0.001). These data show that beta3 integrin expression in primary cutaneous melanoma predicts subsequent metastatic progression. Further study of beta3 integrins in the development of melanoma metastases may yield new therapeutic strategies, as well as prognostic information, for the treatment of this cancer.