A qualitative and quantitative analysis of silver-stained nuclear organizer regions (AgNOR) proteins was performed during hepatocarcinogenesis induced in rats initiated by diethylnitrosamine (DENA) using the resistant-hepatocyte model. Nuclear proteins from control hepatocytes, hyperplastic nodules, and hepatocellular carcinomas (HCC) separated by sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis were transferred to nitrocellulose membranes and specifically silver-stained for AgNOR proteins. No difference was observed in the distribution pattern of the silver-stained bands among control, hyperplastic, or cancer cells. The same was true if human cirrhosis and HCC were compared. The evaluation of individual AgNOR protein amounts by computerized densitometric analysis showed that (1) the integrated optical density value of the total AgNOR proteins was greatest in cancer cells, lesser in hyperplastic hepatocytes, and lowest in control hepatocytes, and (2) the amount of the two major silver-stained proteins, nucleolin (105 kd) and protein B23 (39 kd), was always a constant percentage of total AgNOR proteins. An experiment using bromodeoxyuridine incorporation showed that, during hepatocarcinogenesis, AgNOR protein quantity progressively increased and was significantly related to the increased hepatocyte labeling index. These results show that AgNOR protein distribution changes during hepatocarcinogenesis are caused neither by the synthesis of new AgNOR proteins nor by an unbalanced synthesis of individual AgNOR proteins, but to an increased synthesis of nucleolin and protein B23, which is associated with a progressive increased hepatocyte proliferation rate.