Experimental conditions are described for the detection of steroid receptors in tissue sections or cells at the light microscope level. Current knowledge about the ultrastructural distribution of these receptors is summarized; the mechanisms of their nuclear localization are described. Karyophilic signals involved in nuclear translocation are characterized by means of in vitro mutagenesis of steroid receptor cDNAs. Studies analysing the subcellular distribution of various transfected receptor mutants in energy depleted cells together with fusion experiments provide evidence for nucleoplasmic shuttling of progesterone receptors. We conclude that the "nuclear" location of the wild type progesterone receptor reflects a dynamic equilibrium between active nuclear import and outward diffusion. We also describe the use of immunocytochemistry in pathology, especially for the detection of steroid receptors in hormone dependent tumours.