Analysis of growth factors and receptors in putative premalignant lesions of prostatic adenocarcinoma should aid our understanding of their growth pathways. Sixty prostatic TURP (transurethral resection of the prostate) specimens exhibiting atypical adenomatous hyperplasia (AAH) and/or prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PIN) lesions were assayed by immunohistochemistry for androgen receptor (AR), epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), c-erbB-2, transforming growth factor-alpha (TGF-alpha), vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), fibroblast growth factor-2 (FGF-2), MIB-1, E-cadherin, and high molecular weight keratin. Expression of these factors in the lesions was compared with that in the co-existing benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) or prostatic adenocarcinoma. Strong AR nuclear staining was observed in the luminal cells, but not the basal cells, of BPH and PIN lesions and in all the carcinomas examined. A similar growth factor and receptor profile was demonstrated in the secretory epithelium of high-grade PIN and carcinoma with a tendency to higher expression of membranous EGFR and c-erbB-2 and cytoplasmic TGF-alpha, and lower levels of FGF-2 than in low-grade PIN or BPH glands. Also, increased rates of proliferation, as estimated by MIB-1 stained cells, were observed in high-grade PIN in comparison with low-grade PIN and BPH and were not confined to the basal layer. AAH lesions resembled neither BPH nor carcinoma. Proliferation was virtually absent (MIB-1 expression); both AR and E-cadherin expression was significantly reduced; and, with the exception of FGF-2, all the other growth factors and receptors studied were absent. The results presented would support a premalignant role for high-grade PIN, whilst AAH would appear to represent a quiescent phenotype unlikely to progress to neoplasia.