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We have analyzed the expression of the anti-apoptotic proteins bcl-2, bcl-xl and that of bax, a pro-apoptotic protein, in human WHO grade II astrocytomas (LGA) and WHO grade IV glioblastoma multiforme (GBM). Tumors were obtained immediately after surgical resection and were analyzed by immunohistochemistry (IHC), laser confocal microscopy (LCM) and immunoblots. Both IHC and immunoblot analysis indicated that the expression of bcl-xl was not significantly different between LGA and GBM. IHC indicated that the expression of bcl-2 was inversely correlated to the grade of the tumors (i.e more cells were bcl-2 positive in LGA than in GBM) while the expression of bax was unaffected by the grade of the tumor. In contrast, immunoblots revealed a parallel increase in the expression of bcl-2 and bax from the low to high grade tumor, suggesting a co-regulation of the expression of these two proteins during tumoral progression. Confocal analyses provide us with another possible level of complexicity in the regulation of apoptosis in these tumors, as these markers exhibited different subcellular localizations: bcl-2 was strictly associated with mitochondria and bcl-xl was present in both cytosolic and mitochondrial compartments while bax was found essentially in the cytosol of the tumoral cells. Taken together, our data suggest that the role of bcl-2 related proteins could be regulated at different levels in human astrocytomas (expression, subcellular localization, antigen exposure ...) which should be studied by different techniques.