Langerhans' cell histiocytosis (LCH) often occurs in children as a cutaneous disease. The course of the disease is characterized by either spontaneous resolution or multivisceral dissemination with poor prognosis. The pathogenesis of LCH is not known. Since E-cadherin mediates homophilic adhesion of normal Langerhans' cells to keratinocytes and is also a ligand of the alpha E beta 7 intraepithelial lymphocyte integrin, this study was undertaken to investigate whether its expression on LCH cells correlates with the clinical behaviour of the disease. Clinical records of 14 children with LCH, all of whom had cutaneous involvement, were retrospectively analysed. The expression of E-cadherin was studied by in situ immunohistochemistry on 22 frozen biopsy samples with two specific monoclonal antibodies. LCH cells of the seven children with only skin involvement were positive for E-cadherin. By contrast, LCH cells of the seven children who further developed extensive LCH disclosed a negative or low expression of E-cadherin. This study shows that dissemination and poor prognosis are associated with lack of E-cadherin expression on LCH cells. Aggressive clinical evolution of LCH may therefore be related to the loss of functions mediated by E-cadherin.