Tumour samples from 150 patients with squamous cell carcinoma of the oesophagus were investigated immunohistochemically with the monoclonal antibody MIB-1, which recognises proliferating cells. Using light microscopy, the number of MIB-1-positive tumour cells was counted in the areas with the highest proliferative activity. The MIB-1 index was determined as the proportion of MIB-1-positive and MIB-1-negative tumour cells. A considerable variation of the MIB-1 indices was found between the different tumours with a minimum of 6% and a maximum of 95% (median, 33%). The MIB-1 index correlated significantly with the mitotic activity in the tumour tissue (r = 0.33; P = 0.0001) and with the proportion of apoptotic tumour cells (r = 0.25; P = 0.0017). No significant correlation was found between the MIB-1 index and various other prognostic parameters including pT classification, pN classification, tumour grade, blood vessel invasion and lymphatic vessel invasion. In the univariate survival analysis no significant difference was found between tumours with low (< or = 33%) and high MIB-1 index (> 33%) 5-year survival rate: low MIB-1 index, 19.2%; high MIB-1 index, 22.2%). In a Cox proportional hazard regression analysis only the parameters lymphatic vessel invasion (P = 0.0001), pT classification (P = 0.0034) and pN classification (P = 0.0256), but not the MIB-1 index, could be verified as independent prognostic variables. In conclusion, evaluation of the MIB-1 index does not provide prognostic information for oesophageal cancer patients.