Insulin-like growth factors (IGFs) play an important role in tumour growth and development. We hypothesized that this is also the case for medulloblastomas, which are highly malignant cerebellar brain tumours usually occurring in children. In these tumours the expression patterns of IGF-I and -II mRNA were studied. Tumour specimens obtained from 12 children and two adults at diagnosis were hybridized in situ with digoxigenin-labelled cRNA probes for hIGF-I and hIGF-II mRNAs. In all cases, tumour cells showed abundant expression of IGF-I mRNA. Nine of the 14 tumours showed variable but significant IGF-II expression. In these tumours, the hybridization signal almost exclusively colocalized with a subpopulation of Ki-M1P positive cells that were identified as ramified microglia (RM) cells. In the five tumours without IGF-II expression, microglia/brain macrophages with a more rounded amoeboid-like morphology predominated. RM cells in normal cerebellar tissues, residing abundantly in areas of the white and, to a less extent, in the grey matter, were IGF-II mRNA-negative. These RM cells showed a thinner and more extensively branched appearance and were more evenly distributed than those encountered in medulloblastoma. Probably, during the transformation from the resting ramified towards the amoeboid morphology (or vice versa) IGF-II mRNA expression is only temporarily induced. The physiological meaning of the induction of IGF-II mRNA expression by these cells in medulloblastoma remains unclear but any IGF-II peptide synthesized could exert unfavourable mitogenic and antiapoptotic effects on adjacent tumour cells. However, in this relatively small number of cases we could not find any indications for a relationship between clinical characteristics of the various cases and the extent of IGF-II mRNA expression.