Chromosome 11q13 is amplified in about 13% of primary breast cancers. CCND1, encoding the cell cycle regulatory gene cyclin D1, and EMS1, encoding a filamentous actin binding protein, are favoured candidate onocogenes, whereas INT-2 is an unexpressed gene at this locus. In this study we tested the possibility that different regions of this large amplicon could be independently amplified and subsequently defined the phenotype of EMS1 amplified tumours in a series of 961 primary breast carcinomas. Using DNA slot blots, EMS1 was amplified in 15.2% of samples: 5.4% were coamplified for CCND1; 7.9% coamplified for INT-2 and 6.7% showed EMS1 amplification alone. The degree of amplification of CCND1 and INT-2 was highly correlated (P =0.0001). In contrast, no such relationship existed between EMS1 and CCND1 or INT-2 amplification, demonstrating independent amplification of EMS1 in 44% of amplified tumours. EMS1 amplification (> or = twofold increase in copy number) was positively correlated with patient age > or = 50 years (P = 0.025), ER positivity (P = 0.022), PgR positivity (P = 0.018), and was negatively correlated with HER-2/neu (c-erbB2) amplification (P = 0.01). In common with CCND1/INT-2, EMS1 amplification was associated with increased risk of relapse in patients with lymph node-negative disease (P = 0.028). In contrast, EMS1 and CCND1/INT-2 amplification appeared to confer different phenotypes in ER positive and negative tumours. A > or = threefold increase in EMS1 copy number was associated with an apparent increased risk of relapse and death in patients with ER negative tumours, but was without effect in ER positive tumours. In contrast, CCND1/INT-2 amplification had no effect in the patients with ER negative tumours but was associated with early relapse in ER positive patients. Thus EMS1 amplification may identify subgroups of breast cancer patients with increased probability of relapse and death distinct from those identified by CCND1/INT-2 amplification. Further studies are required to more clearly determine the functional consequences of EMS1 overexpression and a biological basis for the relationship between EMS1 amplification and phenotype in breast cancer.