The development and progression of human prostate cancer is associated with genetic abnormalities in tumor cells. Inactivation of tumor suppressor genes due to allelic loss is thought to be an important mechanism of gene alteration in prostatic neoplasms. In this study we examined allelic loss on chromosome 8p12–21 in microdissected samples of normal prostatic epithelium, high grade prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PIN), and invasive prostate carcinoma from the same patients. Tissue microdissection under direct microscopic visualization procures pure populations of cells of interest, including small lesions such as PIN. Among 30 patients with concomitant cancer and PIN, we found loss of heterozygosity on chromosome 8p12–21 in 63% (34 of 54) of foci of PIN examined and 90.6% (29 of 32) of tumors, suggesting that abnormalities on chromosome 8p12–21 may be important in the early stages of prostatic carcinoma development. Several cases in which multiple foci of PIN from the same patient were sampled showed different patterns of allelic loss. Fifty-five % (16 of 29) of the prostate carcinomas contained a potential precursor PIN focus based on allelic loss pattern. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that PIN arises multifocally within the prostate gland, and that a subset of these lesions progress to become carcinoma.