Bombesin-like peptides such as gastrin-releasing peptide (GRP) have been shown to play a role in cancer as autocrine growth factors that stimulate tumor growth through specific receptors. To search for potential clinical indications for GRP analogues, it is important to identify human tumor types expressing sufficient amounts of the respective receptors. In the present study, we have evaluated the expression of GRP receptors in human nonneoplastic and neoplastic prostate tissues using in vitro receptor autoradiography on tissue sections with 125I-Tyr4-bombesin as radio-ligand. GRP receptors were detected, often in high density, in 30 of 30 invasive prostatic carcinomas and also in 26 of 26 cases of prostatic intraepithelial proliferative lesions, corresponding mostly to prostatic intraepithelial neoplasias. Well-differentiated carcinomas had a higher receptor density than poorly differentiated ones. Bone metastases of androgen-independent prostate cancers were GRP receptor-positive in 4 of 7 cases. Conversely, GRP receptors were identified in only a few hyperplastic prostates and were localized in very low density in glandular tissue and, focally, in some stromal tissue. In all of the cases, the receptors corresponded to the GRP receptor subtype of bombesin receptors, having high affinity for GRP and bombesin and lower affinity for neuromedin B. These data demonstrate a massive GRP receptor overexpression in prostate tissues that are neoplastically transformed or, like prostatic intraepithelial neoplasias, are in the process of malignant transformation. GRP receptors may be markers for early molecular events in prostate carcinogenesis and useful in differentiating prostate hyperplasia from prostate neoplasia Such data may not only be of biological significance but may also provide a molecular basis for potential clinical applications such as GRP-receptor scintigraphy for early tumor diagnosis, radiotherapy with radiolabeled bombesin-like peptide analogues, and chemotherapy with cytotoxic bombesin analogues.