The expression of connexin 32 (the major liver gap junction protein) and connexin 43 (the major cardiac gap junction protein) was examined in six surgically removed human hepatocellular carcinoma tissues and the surrounding nontumorous livers using specific rat connexin probes. No decrease in connexin 32 mRNA expression was found in carcinomas compared with the surrounding nontumorous tissue. Morphometrical analysis also showed that in most of the carcinomas the number of gap junction spots stained with connexin 32 antibody was not less than that in the surrounding livers. These results are in striking contrast to the significant reductions in connexin 32 mRNA and protein expression observed in rat primary liver tumors induced by chemicals. On the other hand, all of the six human hepatocellular carcinomas exhibited elevated levels of connexin 43 mRNA, which was expressed at a very low level in the surrounding nontumorous livers. These carcinomas exhibited no detectable amplification of the connexin 43 gene. The present study suggests that gap junctional intercellular communication is altered in human hepatocellular carcinomas by molecular mechanisms different from those in rat hepatocarcinogenesis.