The principal mode of treatment of advanced (late stage) prostate cancer is androgen ablation. Although the response rate to hormonal ablation is high, relapse ultimately leading to death occurs in the majority of patients in remission from outgrowth of androgen-independent tumor cells. High-grade and high-stage cancers are more likely to progress to androgen independence. This study was undertaken to analyze the expression level of androgen receptor (AR) protein in prostatic carcinomas in relationship to grade and stage of disease. AR protein expression was assessed in 40 archival cases of prostate carcinoma by automated immunohistochemical techniques with standardized development times. Positive nuclei were quantitated by computer- assisted image analysis. Eighty-five percent of the prostatic carcinomas showed high levels of expression, defined as having AR present in more than 50% of the cells by light microscopy. Results of image analysis demonstrated that the variability of AR protein content per unit nuclear area increased with increasing grade (P < .03), regardless of cell size. High-grade prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PIN), present in 17 (42.5%) of the 40 cases, showed markedly reduced AR nuclear staining, compared with low-grade PIN or normal prostate. We show that AR content in prostate tumor cells becomes more variable with increasing Gleason score. In high-grade PIN, the in situ precursor of invasive prostate cancer, AR expression is either downregulated and/or restricted to the cytoplasm, but it is not heterogeneous. These data suggest that the heterogeneity in the expression of the receptor increases with progression of invasive prostate cancer and might in part account for a variable response to endocrine therapy.