Cyclins D1 and E play critical roles in the progression of cells through the G1 phase of the cell cycle. Amplification and/or overexpression of the cyclin D1 gene and aberrant expression of cyclin E have been described in several forms of human cancer. In the present study, we examined the expression of these two genes by Western, Northern and Southern blot analyses in a series of primary human colon carcinomas of various stages and degrees of differentiation and in paired adjacent normal mucosa samples, and also in a series of human colon carcinoma cell lines. About 50% of the colon carcinomas displayed a two to five fold increase in the expression of cyclin D1 mRNA and protein, when compared with the paired normal mucosa samples. Six out of eight carcinomas examined showed a four to nine fold increase in cyclin E mRNA and about 50% of the carcinomas displayed a two to three fold increase in cyclin E protein. Low molecular weight cyclin E-related proteins were observed in four out of ten carcinomas. These changes in cyclins D1 and E occurred in both early and late stage tumors. Three of the six cell lines examined displayed a high expression of cyclin D1 mRNA and protein. A very high level of cyclin E mRNA expression was seen in HCT116 cells and this was associated with the presence of low molecular weight cyclin E-related proteins. None of the primary colon carcinomas nor the six cell lines examined displayed amplification of either the cyclin D1 or cyclin E genes. Thus, an aberrant expression of both cyclins D1 and E occurs in a significant fraction of human colon carcinomas.