E-cadherin, the epithelium-specific cadherin, is known to play a major role in tumor progression in many human carcinomas, via intercellular homophilic Ca2+-dependent adhesion. This adhesion is mediated by a group of cytoplasmic proteins, including the alpha-, beta- and gamma-catenins that link the E-cadherin to the actin cytoskeleton. Recent studies have shown that loss or reduction of either E-cadherin or catenin expression was strictly related to clinicopathological data in bladder tumors, and E-cadherin might constitute prognostic factors in bladder carcinogenesis. Here we continued a preliminary work on E-cadherin in bladder cancer. In an effort to evaluate their possible prognostic value, we investigated both E-cadherin and catenins in 99 bladder tumors by immunohistochemistry. E-cadherin and all the catenins were strongly expressed in normal urothelium. Regarding histopathological data, the tumors examined showed that the disrupted expression of each molecule, except for gamma-catenin, was directly related to increasing tumor grade (mainly for alpha- and beta-catenin) and deep invasion (p < or = 0.01). The aberrant expression of E-cadherin and beta-catenin was also correlated to the presence of distant metastasis (p < 0.05). However, only abnormal expression of a-catenin was associated with poor survival (p = 0.037). Therefore our results suggest that alpha-catenin is directly involved in tumor invasion and dedifferentiation and is the only protein of any prognostic value, albeit low in patients with bladder cancer.