Résumé : Patients carrying a germ line mutation in the BRCA1 gene are predisposed to breast cancer. Somatic BRCA1 mutations were almost never reported in sporadic breast tumors, but several authors have described a decrease in BRCA1 mRNA and protein. In order to further investigate the possible role of BRCA1 in sporadic breast cancer, an improved immunohistochemical protocol was developed and applied on tissue sections obtained from 102 cancer patients belonging to two non-overlapping age groups (less than 40 and more than 60 years). Based on the obtained BRCA1 specific nuclear staining we could distinguish two categories of breast cancer. The staining was present in almost all the nuclei of the normal and the cancer cells in about 50% of young (less than 40 years old) as well as older patients (more than 60 years old). Thus, BRCA1 does not seem to be involved in the genesis of these cancers. In the second category of patients, either a fraction of, or all tumor cells showed no nuclear staining. In this category, no nuclear BRCA1 staining could be observed in the tumor cells of 14 (27%) young and 3 (6%) older patients. Among six young patients bearing a breast tumor showing no BRCA1 nuclear staining at all, one was found to carry a BRCA1 germline mutation. Taken together, our results suggest that the molecular pathway in which the BRCA1 protein participates is disturbed in about 50% of sporadic breast cancer, this effect being more pronounced in tumors of young patients.