The expression of cyclin E in human colorectal adenomas and adenocarcinomas was examined immunohistochemically to elucidate the role of cyclin E in the colorectal carcinogenesis. The expression of cyclin E was detected in 25% (91/358) of the adenomas and 56% (149/267) of the adenocarcinomas. The incidence of strongly positive cases was significantly higher in the adenocarcinomas (20%) than in the adenomas (5%) (P < 0.01). Among adenomas, a significant correlation was noticed between the expression of cyclin E and the grade of atypia. The incidence of cyclin E expression was significantly higher in the adenocarcinomas without an adenoma component (62%; 104/169) than in those with this component (46%; 45/98) (P < 0.05). Furthermore, the incidence of the cyclin E expression was higher in stages 1 and 2 carcinoma than in stage 0 and stages 3 and 4 carcinoma. The expression of cyclin E was the most prominent in tumors invading the submucosa and muscularis propria. The expression of cyclin E was significantly correlated with the proliferative activity of the tumor cells measured by Ki-67 antigen expression (P < 0.01). It was also correlated with the expression of p53 protein in the tumor cells (P < 0.01). Overexpression of cyclin E and subsequent deregulation of cell cycle may contribute to the development and early progression of the colorectal carcinomas.