The molecular mechanisms leading to increased cellular proliferation rates and, thus, tumor formation in the anterior pituitary gland are poorly understood. The cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor p27Kip1 is a key molecule regulating the G1 phase of the cell cycle in many cell types. Furthermore, it was shown that p27 knock-out mice develop pro-opiomelanocortin-positive pituitary tumors. In an effort to clarify the role of p27 in the normal and tumorous human pituitary, we studied the expression of p27 by immunohistochemistry, using a highly specific mouse monoclonal anti-human p27 antibody. Normal pituitaries and 54 pituitary adenomas (twelve somatotrope adenomas, nine prolactinomas, twelve corticotrope adenomas, three TSH-producing tumors, six gonadotrope adenomas, six null cell adenomas, and six oncocytomas) were analyzed. p27 expression was determined semiquantitatively with regard to both the percentage of positive cells and the intensity of the staining. Normal human pituitaries showed strong expression of p27 in most nuclei. In contrast, the levels of p27 were reduced in the majority of the tumors analyzed. Twenty-two tumors (six somatotrope adenomas, five prolactinomas, four corticotrope adenomas, two TSH-producing tumors, two gonadotrope adenomas, and three null cell adenomas) were completely p27-negative. In 18 tumors, p27 expression was found in < or = 10% of the cells. In the other ten tumors, 11-80% of the cells were p27-positive. In summary, we were able to demonstrate reduced expression levels of the cell-cycle inhibitor p27 in tumors derived from all pituitary cell types. Our data indicate that p27 may be an important regulator of cellular proliferation in the anterior pituitary, the underexpression of which could play a role in pituitary tumorigenesis.