Background: Deregulation of the expression of glypican-3, a heparan sulfate proteoglycan, has been demonstrated in several human cancers. Methods: In the present study, glypican-3 mRNA expression was analyzed by Northern blotting and in situ hybridization in 20 normal and 41 cancerous esophageal specimens as well as in 15 normal and 32 cancerous gastric tissues. Results: Glypican-3 mRNA was expressed in both normal and esophageal cancer tissues without a significant difference between normal and cancerous tissues, and without a correlation with histological type, tumor stage, tumor grade, or patient survival. Moderate to strong glypican-3 mRNA signals were found in the cytoplasm of squamous epithelial cells of the normal esophagus. In both squamous and adenocarcinomas of the esophagus glypican-3 mRNA signals were also moderately to strongly present in the cytoplasm of the cancer cells. In gastric tissues, glypican-3 mRNA was present in 53% of normal gastric tissue samples, but was below the detection level in all examined gastric cancer samples. Glypican-3 mRNA signals were moderately to strongly present in the cytoplasm of gastric mucosal epithelial cells, but were only very faintly present in some cancer cells. Conclusions: Glypican-3 may be involved in the growth control of normal esophageal and gastric epithelial cells. Furthermore, our results suggest that glypican-3 may play a tumor suppressor role in gastric but not in esophageal cancer.