Expression of mucin core protein MUC1 and MUC2 was examined at the protein and mRNA level in 55 cases of carcinoma and 20 of dysplasia, and in 15 non-dysplastic epithelia of the gall bladder. In non-dysplastic epithelium, MUC1 protein was not expressed, while in dysplasia, MUC1 was focally expressed in ten cases, particularly in those associated with carcinoma. In carcinoma, MUC1 was expressed heterogeneously, and the frequency and extent of MUC1 expression increased with histological dedifferentiation. MUC1 was found on the apical cell surface and also in the cytoplasm in well- and moderately-differentiated carcinoma, and on the cell border in poorly-differentiated cases. In infiltrative regions, MUC1 expression was more predominant and MUC1 frequently leaked outside the foci of carcinoma. By contrast, MUC2 was focally expressed in non-dysplastic as well as in dysplastic epithelia and more frequently in well-differentiated adenocarcinoma. MUC2-positive cells resembled goblet cells, whether in non-dysplastic epithelium, dysplasia or carcinoma. Cell proliferative activity was higher in MUC1-positive than in MUC1-negative carcinoma cells. Distributions of MUC1 and MUC2 mRNA signals and of MUC1 and MUC2 proteins were similar in carcinoma and dysplasia. These results suggest that MUC1 expression by gall bladder carcinoma may reflect histological dedifferentiation, increased proliferative activity, and invasiveness, while MUC2 expression is related to lower proliferative activity and reflects some differentiation towards goblet cells; and that MUC1 expression in gall bladder dysplasia reflects malignant transformation.