The genes MAGE-1, -2, -3 and -4 are expressed in tumors of different histological types, but not in normal tissues, with the exception of testis and placenta. Short peptides derived from MAGE-1 and MAGE-3 gene products are recognized by cytolytic T lymphocytes when presented by HLA-class-I molecules, and represent potential targets for specific immunotherapy. We have determined whether esophageal carcinoma patients should be eligible for MAGE-peptide-based vaccine therapies. The expression of genes MAGE-1, -2, -3 and -4 in tumor samples was assessed by reverse-transcription and polymerase-chain-reaction amplification. Out of the 49 esophageal squa-mous-cell carcinomas studied, 53% expressed MAGE-1, 49% MAGE-2, 47% MAGE-3 and 71% MAGE-4. Eighty-four percent of the tumors expressed one or more of the four MAGE genes. Owing to the high incidence of MAGE gene expression in esophageal squamous-cell carcinoma, a large proportion of patients could be suitable candidates for immune therapies involving tumor-specific antigens encoded by MAGE genes.