Bag-1 is an anti-apoptotic protein that promotes metastasis in some tumour cell types. To determine whether Bag-1 expression is altered in 64 oral squamous cell carcinomas, tumour samples were compared with 17 samples of normal oral epithelium. Normal oral epithelia had pronounced nuclear staining in the basal and maturation layers and weak cytoplasmic staining that was most pronounced in the basal and suprabasal layers. Oral squamous cell carcinomas demonstrated a tendency for reduced nuclear staining intensity (p=0.036). Cytoplasmic staining intensity was not significantly different between tumour and normal tissue. However, many tumours were observed to have less of a difference between nuclear staining intensity and cytoplasmic staining intensity than normal oral epithelium. Furthermore, in lymph node metastases, cytoplasmic Bag-1 staining was stronger in 8/13 cases than in corresponding primary tumours (p=0.021). Western blotting using nine oral primary carcinoma cell lines and four normal keratinocyte cultures showed that the isoforms Bag-1S, Bag-1M, and Bag-1L were expressed in normal and malignant oral epithelial cells. Bag-1L unique sequences were shown to adopt an exclusively nuclear, and predominantly nucleolar, localization by use of transiently transfected N-terminal Bag-1L-EGFP. However, levels of Bag-1L in carcinoma cells did not differ significantly from those of normal keratinocytes. Therefore the reduced nuclear staining observed in oral squamous cell carcinomas compared with normal epithelium may reflect changes in the localization of Bag-1 isoforms, rather than decreased expression of Bag-1L. Alterations in the relative proportions of Bag-1S, Bag-1M, and Bag-1L were detected in 6/9 oral carcinoma cell lines; 5/9 oral carcinoma cell lines had a significantly greater proportion of Bag-1M than normal keratinocytes and in another cell line, Bag-1L was significantly underrepresented. Overall, the results suggest that Bag-1 deregulation plays a role in oral carcinogenesis at two different stages: during primary carcinoma development and during lymph node metastasis. Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.