The maintenance of adult tissue architecture is largely dependent on the function of cadherins. E-cadherin is expressed in most epithelia, although it may be co-expressed with P-cadherin in basal layers of stratified epithelia. Adhesive function of cadherins relies on interactions with catenins. Many reports have characterized reduced expression of cadherins and catenins in tumors, including those of the gastrointestinal tract. This study aimed to characterize expression of E- and P-cadherins, and the catenins, in the progression of Barrett's esophagus to adenocarcinoma. Immunohistochemical analysis and Western blotting were performed on paraffin-embedded and fresh-frozen tissue using antisera to the selected cadherins and catenins. The results of this study have shown inappropriate expression of cadherins and catenins in neoplastic Barrett's mucosa. There was a significant reduction of E-cadherin expression as the Barrett's metaplasia-dysplasia-adenocarcinoma sequence progressed (P < 0.01). In contrast, P-cadherin, expressed in basal layers of squamous esophagus, was usually absent from Barrett's and dysplasia but was expressed in 17 of 24 carcinomas, especially at the advancing tumor edge. Reduced expression of catenins was also seen, but in some specimens, immunoreactivity was observed in neoplastic nuclei, suggesting mediation of a nuclear function such as transcriptional regulation.