Expression of CD44 isoforms has been shown to correlate with the progression and prognosis of some malignant tumours. The aim of this study was to investigate the expression of CD44 standard (CD44s) and CD44 splice variants (CD44v) v5, v6, and v10 in lymph node specimens from patients with nodular sclerosing Hodgkin's disease (NSHD), with or without initial bone marrow involvement and with or without relapse. Specimens were studied by immunohistochemistry to determine CD44s and CD44v in Hodgkin- and Reed-Sternberg (HRS) cells. For validation of the immunohistochemical of detection of CD44v10 in paraffin-embedded samples, selected cases were analysed in parallel immunohistochemically using fresh frozen material and by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). There was high expression of CD44 isoforms containing the variant exon v10 selectively in HRS cells of patients with relapse within 2-3 years or with initial bone marrow involvement. In patients without relapse, however, no or only very few HRS cells were positive. These differences were statistically highly significant (p < or = 0.001), whereas evaluation of CD44s, CD44v5, and v6 expression revealed no marked differences. It is concluded that evaluation of CD44v10 expression could serve as a new prognostic marker in NSHD. These results are considered to be of sufficient importance to initiate a large multi-institutional study for confirmation; furthermore, they might suggest causal involvement of CD44v10 in the progression of NSHD.