The tumor-derived antigen 90K (Mac-2 BP) is a widely expressed, secreted glycoprotein found in the serum of healthy individuals and at elevated levels in the serum of patients with breast cancer and other types of cancer. The precise function of 90K, particularly in the context of tumor-host relationships, has not yet been established. In this study, the clinical significance of 90K mRNA expression was studied in relation to other established prognostic parameters in 86 patients with primary breast carcinoma. The 2.2-kb 90K message was detected in all tumor samples, but there was marked variation in expression levels from tumor to tumor. Patients were classified into 2 groups on the basis of 90K expression: group 1 (n = 62) included patients with low expression, and group 2 (n = 24) consisted of patients with high expression. An inverse significant correlation was found between the levels of 90K mRNA expression and overexpression of c-erbB2/Neu receptor kinase, a marker of poor prognosis for patients with breast cancer. There was no significant difference between the groups with respect to tumor size, number of involved axillary lymph nodes, hormone-receptor status, p53 expression or proliferation activity as estimated by Ki-67 count. Similarly, no association was found between the level of 90K expression and the risk of death from breast cancer. These data are at variance with published findings showing that high serum 90K levels are associated with poor survival. Significantly, investigation of 90K-gene expression in peripheral-blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) revealed higher levels of 90K message in PBMC of breast-cancer patients than in healthy individuals. This new finding suggests that PBMC activated in response to tumor growth and progression may be an important source of serum 90K in breast cancer.