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We examined 232 breast carcinomas for c-erhB-2 amplification by Southern analysis using two different cDNA probes. Using these same probes, 95 of these tumors were also examined for mRNA expression by Northern analysis. Amplification was detected in 20 and 17% of the tumors with the probes pHER 2 and pCER 204, respectively, but only 10% showed amplification with both probes. A significantly higher incidence (p < 0.01) of mRNA overexpression was detected with the pHER 2 probe (34%) compared with the pCER 204 probe (16%), with only 11% of tumors demonstrating overexpression with both probes. A total of 10 tumors (11%) exhibited amplification as well as overexpression with pHER 2, whereas significantly fewer (3%) manifested both abnormalities with the larger pCER 204 probe (p < 0.05). Amplification of c-erbB-2, as detected with the pHER 2 probe but not with the pCER 204 probe, was significantly associated with the absence of both estrogen and progesterone receptors (p < 0.05 and p < 0.01. respectively). No relationship was found with other clinical prognostic indicators, such as nodal involvement and metastases. As determined by either probe, overexpression was not associated with prognostic indicators. There was no significant difference in the c-erbB-2 status of tumors from different racial groups.