To determine the involvement of proteinases with hydrolytic activity towards extracellular matrix and basement membrane, in invasion and metastasis of tumour cells, the expression of cathepsin D, an aspartic proteinase, and cathepsin B, a cysteine proteinase, was studied. Formalin-fixed paraffinembedded specimens from 13 patients who had squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) with local recurrence, skin and/or lymph node metastasis were examined. Cathepsin D stained intensely as a granular pattern (mature enzyme) in tumour cells of 69% of primary lesions and all the secondary lesions of the patients with SCC. Cathepsin B stained more intensely in SCC cells of all of the primary and secondary lesions than in normal epidermis: staining patterns were almost diffuse (procathepsin B). Granular and diffuse patterns (mature enzyme of cathepsin D and procathepsin B, respectively) appeared in the outer and inner parts of tumour islands, respectively. The presence of the active mature form of cathepsin D and procathepsin B in metastatic skin lesions of SCC was confirmed by Western blotting analysis. The presence and localization of the active mature form of cathepsin D suggests that activated cathepsin D may be involved in the invasion and metastasis of SCC.