To analyze gene expression of α-fetoprotein (AFP) and albumin in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), messenger RNAs (mRNAs) of these proteins in six human hepatoma cell lines and in 30 cases of HCC were quantitatively analyzed by competitive reverse transcription (RT) followed by polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The transcriptional levels of both AFP and albumin genes in HepG2 and Huh 7 cell lines were 1010 copies/μg RNA, in contrast to approximately 105 copies/μg RNA in HLE and HLF cell lines. AFP and albumin mRNA levels in three normal livers were 105 and 1010 transcripts/μg RNA, respectively. In 30 cases with HCC AFP mRNA level in neoplasm was 10 to 105-fold enhanced as compared with that of nonneoplastic portion, and correlated with serum AFP level and tumor size (P < .01). In contrast, albumin mRNA level was not reduced in the neoplasms presenting enhanced AFP mRNA levels, indicating that AFP and albumin gene expression in situ is not necessarily mutually exclusive. Prospective analysis revealed that an increased serum AFP was shown at the time of recurrence among patients with enhanced AFP mRNA levels in neoplasm only, indicating that AFP mRNA levels in neoplasm could be a clinically predictable tool.