Expression of protein kinase C (PKC) isoenzymes -alpha, -beta, -delta, -epsilon, -gamma, -iota, -lambda, -mu, -theta, and -zeta, and of their common receptor for activated C-kinase (RACK)-1, was determined immunohistochemically using specific antibodies in formalin-fixed and paraffin-embedded specimens of early prostatic adenocarcinomas (n = 23) obtained at radical prostatectomy. Expression of each isoenzyme by malignant tissues was compared with nonneoplastic prostate tissues removed at radical cystectomy (n = 10). The most significant findings were decreased PKC-beta expression in early neoplasia when compared to benign epithelium (P < 0.0001), together with a reciprocal increase in expression of PKC-epsilon (P < 0.0001). Detectable levels of PKC-alpha and PKC-zeta were also significantly increased in the cancers (P = 0.045 and P = 0.015 respectively) but did not correlate with either PKC-beta or PKC-epsilon for individual cases. Alterations in the levels of the four PKC isoenzymes occurred specifically and consistently during the genesis and progression of human prostate cancer. PKC-delta, -gamma, and -theta were not expressed in the epithelium of either the benign prostates or the cancers. Levels of expression for PKC-A, -iota, -mu, and RACK-1 were not significantly different between the benign and malignant groups. Although changes in PKC isoenzyme expression may assist in explaining an altered balance between proliferation and apoptosis, it is likely that changes in activity or concentrations of these isoenzymes exert important modulating influences on particular pathways regulating cellular homeostasis. The findings of this study raise an exciting possibility of novel therapeutic intervention to regulate homeostatic mechanisms controlling proliferation and/or apoptosis, including expression of the p170 drug-resistance glycoprotein, intracellular Ca2+ concentrations, and enhanced cellular mobility resulting in the metastatic dissemination of human prostate cancer cells. Attenuation of PKC-beta expression is currently being assessed as a reliable objective adjunct to morphological appearance for the diagnosis of early progressive neoplasia in human prostatic tissues.