PURPOSE: The monoclonal antibody (mAb) 323/A3, a second generation high affinity antibody of the 17-1A antibody family, recognizes a 40 kDa transmembrane glycoprotein that has been referred to as Ep-CAM, 17-1A recognized antigen, or EGP40. While Ep-CAM is expressed on the basolateral surface of a variety of epithelia, the strongest expression is frequently detected among several types of carcinoma. In this regard, Ep-CAM may be useful in therapy, in diagnosis, and/or in prognosis. We examined the distribution of Ep-CAM in normal, dysplastic, and malignant prostatic epithelium. MATERIALS AND METHODS: Paraffin sections of prostate tissue from 76 patients with clinically localized (pT2) prostatic adenocarcinoma were immunostained with mouse mAb 323/A3 using the avidin-biotin horseradish peroxidase method. RESULTS: Within benign prostatic epithelium, immunoreactivity typically was low and frequently was restricted to the luminal cells. In contrast, moderate to strong immunostaining was detected frequently in the luminal cells of high grade prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PIN). Furthermore, strong immunostaining usually was detected in the cells of adenocarcinomas. The immunostaining in PIN (p<0.0001) and in adenocarcinoma (p<0.0001) was significantly greater than that observed in the normal epithelium. Expression of Ep-CAM did not vary significantly with the Gleason score of tumors or the clinical outcome of patients. Expression of Ep-CAM was demonstrated also in the malignant prostatic cell lines LNCaP, DU145 and PC3 using immunohistochemistry and an immunoblot technique. CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that increased levels of Ep-CAM represent an early event in the development of prostatic adenocarcinoma.