AIMS: Intestinal trefoil factor is a mucosa associated trefoil peptide expressed predominantly in the goblet cells of the small and large intestine. The aim of this work was to investigate the expression of the intestinal trefoil factor gene in human colorectal cancers. METHODS: The expression of intestinal trefoil factor mRNA was examined by northern blot analysis in 27 cases of surgically resected primary colorectal carcinoma of various stages. RESULTS: Although intestinal trefoil factor mRNA was expressed consistently in the tumours, the levels of expression varied considerably among the cases examined. The levels of expression were low in advanced stage tumours (Dukes's B, C, and D) compared with early stage tumours (Dukes's A) (p < 0.05). In addition, there was a tendency towards a positive correlation, albeit not well defined, between the amounts of intestinal trefoil factor mRNA and the histological differentiation of tumours. CONCLUSIONS: Intestinal trefoil factor mRNA was expressed consistently in the cases of colorectal carcinoma studied and expression was inversely associated with tumour progression.