During the progression of many cancers, cell-cell adhesion molecules, e.g., E-cadherin (EC), may be down-regulated. In a number of carcinomas, EC has been described as an independent prognostic variable. We have studied the expression of adhesion molecules participating in cadherin-catenin complexes in renal cell carcinoma (RCC) specimens. Expression of EC, catenins and p120cas protein was examined in frozen tissue of 90 RCC specimens by immunohistochemistry, and these molecules were evaluated for their significance as prognostic markers. Staining was scored as normal (homogeneously positive at cell-cell borders) or abnormal (heterogeneous or absent). A significant correlation between poor survival and decreased expression of alpha-, beta- or gamma-catenin was observed, whereas no association between survival and EC or p120cas expression was seen. Cox's proportional hazard regression analysis showed that in patients with pT1-3N0M0 disease, reduced alpha-catenin expression correlated with poor survival, suggesting that alpha-catenin expression might be an independent prognostic indicator for patients of this group.