CD44 splice variants, especially those containing the v6 domain, are assumed to play a critical role in the malignant progression of many human tumors. This concept was based on (i) the aberrant expression of CD44v6 in malignant cells, often encoded by alternatively spliced transcripts, and (ii) the absence of CD44v6 expression in corresponding normal tissues. Remarkably, data on CD44v6 expression in squamous cells do not support this hypothesis: the v6 domain is highly expressed in normal squamous tissues and down-regulation has been described in the majority of squamous-cell carcinomas of the head and neck (HNSCC). In this study, we have compared the expression of v6 in normal oral mucosa and HNSCC in a qualitative and quantitative way. Immuno-histochemistry was performed with 3 different anti-v6 antibodies (U36, U39 and VFF18) on a large panel of HNSCC cell lines and tumors. The v6-encoding splice variants were characterized by screening a cDNA library of a human HNSCC cell line and by RT-PCR on HNSCC cell lines, microdissected normal mucosa and primary as well as metastatic HNSCC tissue. The results revealed that there is no, or only marginal, down-regulation of CD44v6 in HNSCC. About 97% of the primary HNSCC tumors exhibited a high and homogeneous staining pattern (U36, 270/277; U39, 268/277 tumors with more than 50% positive cells). Furthermore, the v6-containing CD44 splice variants present in HNSCC primary tumors and metastases were identical to those expressed in normal mucosa. Our data indicate that v6-containing CD44 splice variants do not play a role in the malignant progression of HNSCC.