Résumé : OBJECTIVES: To investigate in a series of cholesteatomas 1. whether subgroups of cholesteatomas with specific proliferative/apoptotic features exhibit distinct differentiation markers and 2. whether these different subgroups identified at the biological level relate to specific groups of clinically identified cholesteatomas. STUDY DESIGN: Analysis of 55 cholesteatomas resected by the same surgeon, by means of canal wall up and canal wall down surgical procedures. METHODS: Two differentiation markers were used: biotinylated sarcolectin (to identify sarcolectin-binding sites) and a monoclonal antibody directed against calcyclin (which is the S100A6 protein). The growth pattern in cholesteatomas was characterized at three distinct levels: 1. the cell proliferation level determined by means of the MIB-1 antibody, which enables the Ki-67 cell-cycle-related antigen to be identified on archival material; 2. the apoptosis level determined by means of the in situ labeling of nuclear DNA fragmentation (TUNEL staining); and 3. the p53 tumor suppressor gene-related product determined by means of p53 immunohistochemistry. RESULTS: The cholesteatomas that exhibited the highest proportion of apoptotic cells were those which exhibited the highest level of sarcolectin-binding sites (i.e., sialic acids). In contrast, the cholesteatomas exhibiting the lowest level of both proliferation and apoptosis showed the highest level of calcyclin. Recurrent cholesteatomas can be identified from nonrecurrent ones on the basis of three features, namely, the level of apoptotic cells, the way in which the apoptotic cells are distributed (i.e., homogeneously vs. heterogeneously), and the percentage of calcyclin-positive cells. CONCLUSIONS: The present data emphasize the existence of distinct subgroups of cholesteatomas identifiable at both cell kinetic and differentiation levels. Some of the biological variables used here to identify distinct biological subgroups of cholesteatomas in turn enabled some biological variables to be identified, so making it possible to classify the cholesteatomas in terms of recurrence versus nonrecurrence.