Overexpression of c-erbB-2/neu/HER-2 oncoprotein, a receptor tyrosine kinase, has been demonstrated in a variety of human cancers. To elucidate the involvement of c-erbB-2 in human skin carcinogenesis, we examined expression of the protein in skin samples from five cases of keratoacanthoma (KA), 10 of actinic keratosis (AK), 24 of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and 10 of basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and five samples of normal epidermis, using an immunohistochemical method on formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded sections. Expression of c-erbB-2 was also examined in cultured SCC cell lines, a premalignant cell line and in cultured normal keratinocytes. Normal epidermal cells showed no or very little c-erbB-2 protein, but the covering epidermal layer of some tumours showed a few strongly positive cells. Samples of KA and AK showed barely detectable c-erbB-2 protein in only a few cases. Twenty of the 24 cases of SCC had elevated expression of c-erbB-2 protein, with a tendency to more positive cells in metastatic lesions. Five of the 10 cases of BCC stained for c-erbB-2 but more weakly than those of SCC. Reaction products of the positive cells were seen in the cytoplasm. All three cultured SCC cell lines stained for c-erbB-2 protein more strongly than the premalignant HaCaT or normal keratinocytes. Our results indicate the possible involvement of c-erbB-2 overexpression in the malignant conversion of keratinocytes.