Parathyroid hormone-related protein (PTHrP) is the cause of humoral hypercalcaemia of malignancy and interacts with parathyroid hormone (PTH) receptors. Breast cancer cells produce PTHrP in vitro and in vivo. The breast cancer cell line MCF-7, which products PTHrP and expresses PTHrP receptors, proliferates in response to PTHrP. The aim of these studies was to determine the tissue location of PTHrP/PTH receptors (PTHrPR) in primary breast carcinomas and to establish whether they had the potential to respond to PTHrP. The cellular location of mRNA for the PTHrP/PTH receptor was identified using in situ hybridization in primary breast carcinomas and normal breast tissue. Immunohistochemistry for PTHrP was carried out on the same specimens. Tumours were assessed and scored by two observers using the product of intensity of signal and number of positive tumour cells (possible range 0-9). Tumours were also assessed for Ki-67 expression by counting positive nuclei. Non-malignant ductular epithelium expressed mRNA for the PTHrP receptor (mean score 2.6, range 1-4). Breast carcinomas (mean score 4.4, range 0-9) showed variable expression of PTHrP receptor mRNA: eight tumours were negative, 50 had scores similar to normal breast tissue, and 49 had higher scores for the receptor. Levels of expression of the receptor within the primary breast carcinomas were unrelated to immunohistochemical detection of PTHrP or to any standard prognostic factor. There was a significant (P = 0.05) relationship between Ki-67 and PTHrPR expression in individual tumours. The presence of PTHrP and its receptor in normal breast epithelium and breast carcinomas demonstrates that most breast tumours are able to respond to PTHrP. The Ki-67 data suggest that PTHrP is a potential autocrine growth factor in primary breast carcinoma.