Our previous data indicate that the expression of the PLK gene which codes for a serine/threonine kinase is restricted to proliferating cells. In Northern blot experiments PLK mRNA expression was at the limit of detection in normal lung tissue but elevated in most samples of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). A very low frequency of PLK transcripts was only found in bronchiolo-alveolar carcinomas. NSCLC patients whose tumors showed moderate PLK expression survived significantly longer (5 year survival rate=51.8%) than those with high levels of PLK transcripts (24.2%, P=0.001). No statistically significant correlation was found between PLK mRNA expression and age, sex, TNM status, histological type or degree of differentiation. Interestingly, the prognosis of patients in post-surgical stages I and II was correlated with PLK expression (5 year survival rates in stage I: 69.1% (moderate PLK) - 43.5% (high PLK), P=0.03 or in stage II: 51.9% (moderate PLK) - 9.9% (high PLK), P=0.006). These results suggest that PLK mRNA expression provides a new independent prognostic indicator for patients with NSCLC.