The retinoblastoma gene product is a nuclear phosphoprotein that undergoes cell cycle-dependent changes in its phosphorylation status. To analyze the expression of retinoblastoma gene product in the process of liver regeneration and the initiation of hepatocellular carcinoma, we studied immunohistochemically the expression of retinoblastoma gene product and DNA polymerase alpha (DPA) in 33 patients with various liver diseases. Only a few hepatocytes positive for retinoblastoma gene product were found in undamaged, nonregenerating liver tissues, whereas many hepatocytes positive for retinoblastoma gene product were detected in specimens of regenerating liver obtained from patients with acute or chronic liver diseases. Similarities were found between distribution patterns of hepatocytes positive for retinoblastoma gene product and those of hepatocytes positive for DPA, and a highly significant positive correlation was found between the number of hepatocyte nuclei stained for retinoblastoma gene product per 1000 nuclei examined (R-LI) and the number of hepatocyte nuclei stained for DPA per 1000 nuclei examined (D-LI) in tissues obtained from patients with nonmalignant liver disease. Hepatocellular carcinoma cells positive for DPA were detected in the 14 hepatocellular carcinoma specimens tested. In ten of these specimens, hepatocellular carcinoma cells positive for retinoblastoma gene product were found but not in the other four. For all hepatocellular carcinoma specimens, R-LI was proportional to D-LI. Thus in both nonmalignant and malignant liver, retinoblastoma gene product increased in proportion to proliferation of hepatocytes or hepatocellular carcinoma cells.