To examine the possible role of gap junctions in mouse skin tumor progression, we generated a panel of mouse skin tissue samples exhibiting normal, hyperplastic, or neoplastic changes and characterized the expression of the gap-junction genes connexin 43 (Cx43) and connexin 26 (Cx26) by in situ hybridization and immunohistochemical analyses. In normal skin, these two gap junction genes were differentially expressed; Cx43 was found predominantly in the less differentiated lower spinous layers, whereas Cx26 was found in terminally differentiating upper spinous and granular layers. In hyperplastic epidermis exhibiting an expansion of the differentiated upper layer, i.e., epidermis with a thickened granular layer or in which the granular layer was replaced with keratinocytes exhibiting tricholemmal differentiation, expression of Cx43 and Cx26 remained segregated in the lower and upper spinous layers, respectively. However, in papillomas, Cx26 was localized in the lower but not upper spinous layer, an expression pattern identical to that of Cx43. In addition, the overall expression levels of both Cx43 and Cx26 appeared to be greatly elevated in the papillomas. It is interesting that such marked alteration in the pattern of Cx26 expression occurred within the context of hyperplastic changes histologically identical to those seen in the nonpapillomous hyperplasias. Interestingly, in neoplastic skin lesions containing a squamous cell carcinoma, Cx43 and Cx26 expression was extinguished. Moreover, expression of Cx43 was also significantly reduced in adjacent apparently nonneoplastic tissues. Overall, these observations show that perturbations in gap-junction gene expression are associated with skin hyperplasia and neoplasia. Such findings suggest a possible role for gap junctions in the malignant conversion of mouse epidermal cells.