The biological significance of the differential expression of cytokeratin (CK) polypeptides in breast carcinomas is unclear. We examined the CK profiles of 101 primary infiltrating ductal breast carcinomas using monoclonal antibodies directed against 11 different CKs and against vimentin. Two major CK phenotypes were distinguished: first, a phenotype expressing only the simple-epithelial CKs 7 (variably), 8, 18 and 19, and secondly, a bimodal phenotype co-expressing significant amounts of one or more of the stratified-epithelial CKs 4, 14 and 17. The vast majority of G1 and G2 carcinomas had the simple-epithelium phenotype, as did a subgroup of G3 carcinomas. Interestingly, the majority (62%) of G3 carcinomas exhibited the bimodal phenotype, with the expression of CKs 4, 14 and 17 being statistically correlated with poor histological differentiation and absence of steroid hormone receptors. The distribution of vimentin only partially overlapped with that of these stratified-epithelial CKs. Prognostic analyses suggested that the presence of CKs 4, 14 and/or 17 was associated with short overall and disease-free survival in subgroups comprising G3, oestrogen-receptor-negative and vimentin-negative tumours. In node-positive tumours the correlation between these CKs and a shorter disease-free interval attained statistical significance (log rank, 0.0096). Thus, abnormal CK profiles in ductal breast carcinomas appear to reflect disturbed regulation of differentiation-related gene expression programmes and may prove to be of clinical value.