Background SnoN is an important regulator of the transforming growth factor beta (TGFβ) signalling pathway and has been shown to exhibit both tumour promotion and suppression activity. Methods To further explore the role of this complex molecule in colorectal tumorigenesis, we examined 52 paired normal and tumour colorectal specimens stratified by level of microsatellite instability; 18 with high-level microsatellite instability (MSI-H) and 34 microsatellite stable (MSS). SnoN transcript expression was quantitated by real-time PCR and analysed with respect to clinical indicators of prognosis. Results Within the MSI-H subgroup, SnoN was commonly either up-regulated (6/18, 33%) or down-regulated (7/18, 39%). A significantly different distribution of SnoN expression was observed in MSS cancers compared with MSI-H (P ≤ 0.001). Whilst 17/34 (50%) of MSS tumours demonstrated up-regulation, none showed down-regulated expression. Within the MSI-H subgroup, up-regulation was significantly correlated with lack of repeat tract mutation in the TGFβRII gene (P ≤ 0.025), suggesting that SnoN is more frequently up-regulated in the presence of functional TGFβ signalling. Conclusion Together these data support the notion that SnoN has both oncogenic and tumour suppressive properties depending on other genetic changes within the tumour, and that the MSI-H pathway of colorectal tumorigenesis presents an excellent model for the study of these opposing functions.