Some neurotrophic factors stimulate process outgrowth in peripheral and/or central nerve fibres. There is no published report that has focused on the expression of neurotrophic factors in human pancreatic cancer except basic fibroblast growth factor. This study was therefore designed to examine the mRNA and protein levels of neurotrophin-3 (NT-3), which is one of the representative neurotrophic factors. The mRNA level for NT-3 was first investigated in eight pancreatic cancers and two samples of normal pancreas, using reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). NT-3 protein expression was then studied in 47 human pancreatic cancers, using a monoclonal antibody against human NT-3 protein. There was a notable difference in the level of NT-3 mRNA between normal and pancreatic carcinoma tissues, with no evident difference in the expression of the beta-actin gene. Immunohistochemically, 34 of 47 pancreatic cancers (72 per cent) were mildly to markedly immunoreactive for NT-3 in the cytoplasma. Immunoreactivity was usually more pronounced at the infiltrative margins of the tumours. These observations suggest that pancreatic carcinoma overexpresses NT-3.