Alterations in the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and its main ligand, transforming growth factor-alpha (TGF alpha), were investigated for a possible prognostic relevance in 125 astrocytic gliomas (44 World Health Organization (WHO) Grade II, 19 WHO Grade III, and 62 WHO Grade IV tumors). The TGF alpha and EGFR proteins were detected immunohistochemically using monoclonal antibodies. A positive immunoreaction to TGF alpha was detected in 33 (75%) of 44 WHO Grade II astrocytomas, 18 (95%) of 19 WHO Grade III astrocytoma, and 50 (81%) of 62 WHO Grade IV glioblastomas. No correlation between TGF alpha immunoreaction and duration of survival could be found. A positive EGFR immunoreaction was detected in seven (16%) of 44 WHO Grade II astrocytomas, five (26%) of 19 WHO Grade III astrocytomas, and 32 (52%) of 62 WHO Grade IV glioblastomas. Of these gliomas, 97 (26 WHO Grade II, 17 WHO Grade III, and 54 WHO Grade IV gliomas) were examined for EGFR gene amplification using a differential polymerase chain reaction assay. Amplification of the EGFR gene was detected in none of the WHO Grade II astrocytomas, one (6%) of 17 WHO Grade III astrocytomas, and 18 (33%) of 54 WHO Grade IV glioblastomas. Twenty-two of the tumors investigated showed a positive EGFR immunoreaction without detectable gene amplification (five WHO Grade II, four WHO Grade III, and 13 WHO Grade IV tumors). Gene amplification was invariably associated with a positive EGFR immunoreaction. For the entire study group, a strong correlation between EGFR alterations (gene amplification and positive immunoreaction) and survival could be found. However, this correlation only reflected the higher percentages of cases with EGFR alterations in malignant gliomas and was not an independent prognostic factor as determined by multifactorial analysis. These data demonstrate that EGFR alterations are frequent events in astrocytic gliomas and are largely restricted to glioblastomas. However, within one tumor grade they do not provide prognostic information.