Basal cells lining prostatic acini have unique morphologic and immunophenotypic characteristics. The role of these uncommitted cells in the genesis of cancer in the prostate is intriguing. Here, we discuss immunophenotypic and molecular features of basal cells of prostatic acini, and compare them with those of cytologically transformed cells of prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PIN) in both human tissues and animal models. Following a summary of the current concepts of molecular events in prostatic cancer, we will discuss the role of the ras-dependent pathway in early prostate carcinogenesis with a special emphasis on mitogen-activated protein kinase phosphatase (MKP-1). We will also outline the importance of techniques such as differential display-polymerase chain reaction (ddPCR) followed by in situ hybridization in the characterization of genes which may have a critical role in early prostate carcinogenesis. Finally, we will underscore the role of animal models in understanding the early events leading to neoplastic transformation of prostate cells.