The BDII/Han rat develops spontaneous endometrial adenocarcinoma, which appears virtually identical histologically to human endometrial adenocarcinoma. The incidence rate of cancer formation in the rat is 90% and the mean lifetime of the animals is 22 months. This animal model therefore, is useful in the study of molecular aspects of spontaneous transformation as well as mammalian neoplastic progression. In this study we address the in-situ expression of tenascin, an extracellular matrix glycoprotein, during normal cyclic growth, during development of proliferative states, and during malignant transformation of the endometrium. Trace amounts of immunocytochemically detectable tenascin were found in 10% of young BDII/Han rats with a normal estrus cycle. In these inbred animals no tenascin was detectable in uteri without neoplastic progressive alterations of the endometrium. Tenascin immunoreactivity first appeared during proliferation in one of three uteri with cystic glandular hyperplasia. Prominent tenascin expression was detectable in all adenomatous hyperplasia, but restricted to the stromal mesenchyme, that surrounded the glands. In all endometrial adenocarcinomas tested, essentially the entire extracellular space of the stromal mesenchyme was immunoreactive with anti-tenascin antibodies while the epithelial glands themselves were negative. This staining pattern was observed independent of the degree of tumor differentiation or extent of myometrial invasion. The tenascin staining pattern was not significantly altered in tumors transplanted into the soft tissues of the neck of female BDII/Han rats. From our studies we conclude that tenascin may be a marker for the early detection of proliferative endometrial states. Further, previous investigation by us showing nearly identical findings in human endometrium reinforces the value of this animal model system in the study of human epithelial hyperplastic conditions including those associated with malignancies of the endometrium. © 1991 Springer-Verlag.