The cysteine endopeptidase cathepsin B (CB) can degrade basement membrane (BM) proteins (such as laminin, type IV collagen, and fibronectin) at both acid and neutral pHs suggesting that CB has a role in tumor invasion and distant metastasis. The distribution and intensity of CB protein localization vary in normal prostate, benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), and neoplastic prostate. These considerations have led us to examine whether the distribution of CB localization in malignant and normal cells is due to storage or active synthesis of CB. In the present study, we examined the localization patterns of CB at the mRNA level in normal prostate, BPH, and well to moderately differentiated neoplastic prostate, focusing on invasive groups of cells and invasive edges of malignant tumors. We used a 25-base biotinylated oligonucleotide CB cDNA “sense” probe to localize CB message in prostate samples obtained from radical prostatectomies. We have determined that CB is actively synthesized by the epithelia of normal, hyperplastic, and neoplastic prostate including some invasive cells in the invasive edges. In both normal and BPH, CB mRNA was localized predominantly in acinar basal cells with some localization in cuboidal/columnar cells. In contrast, in neoplastic prostate, CB mRNA was localized predominantly in columnar cells and in groups of invasive cells and invasive edges. Thus, in malignant prostate the predominant cell types expressing CB differed from those of the normal prostate and BPH. Analysis of CB mRNA localizations indicated a heterogeneity in staining distribution in prostate cancer with some invasive groups of cells and invasive edges exhibiting CB mRNA and others exhibiting little or no reaction products. Using CB as a marker, we have been able to define invasive edges and invasive cells which may be actively involved in tumor progression. The potential ability to distinguish between malignant and nonmalignant foci and edges via localization of CB within the prostatic extracellular matrix may improve diagnosis and treatment of some higher grade tumor patients. This is especially important since histologic differentiation patterns of moderately to poorly differentiated human prostatic adenocarcinoma often do not differentiate between malignant and nonmalignant foci and edges in predicting aggressive behavior and course of the disease in patients. This is the first localization of cathepsin B mRNA in human prostate and its tumors. © 1993 Wiley-Liss, Inc.