Experimental studies suggest that cyclin D1 is a potential oncogene but in clinical studies of invasive breast cancer, overexpression of cyclin D1 is found to be associated with oestrogen receptor (ER) expression and low histological grade, both markers of good prognosis. Immunohistochemistry has been used to examine the relationship between cyclin D1 expression and differentiation in 36 cases of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) and the interrelationship between expression of cyclin D1, its associated protein product of the retinoblastoma gene (pRb), and ER, in this group of cases. The expression of these markers has also been examined in nine cases of atypical ductal hyperplasia (ADH) and these results have been compared with the levels of expression seen in DCIS. Cyclin D1 overexpression was found in 23/36 (64 per cent) cases of DCIS and, in contrast to invasive carcinoma, there was no relationship with either differentiation or ER expression. The level of pRb expression was significantly associated with cyclin D1 expression (rS = 0.49, P = 0.001) and only two cases (6 per cent) were pRb-negative. There was no association between pRb and differentiation of DCIS or ER status. In contrast to DCIS, only one case of ADH showed overexpression of cyclin D1 (Mann-Whitney U-test, P = 0.02). All cases of ADH were ER-positive and showed moderate pRb staining, similar to that seen in well-differentiated DCIS. These results provide further evidence that overexpression of cyclin D1 plays a role early in carcinogenesis.