BACKGROUND: Growth factor, cytokine and chemokine-induced activation of PI3K enzymes constitutes the start of a complex signalling cascade, which ultimately mediates cellular activities such as proliferation, differentiation, chemotaxis, survival, trafficking, and glucose homeostasis. The PI3K enzyme family is divided into 3 classes; class I (subdivided into IA and IB), class II (PI3K-C2alpha, PI3K-C2beta and PI3K-C2gamma) and class III PI3K. Expression of these enzymes in human tissue has not been clearly defined. METHODS: In this study, we analysed the immunohistochemical topographical expression profile of class IA (anti-p85 adaptor) and class II PI3K (PI3K-C2alpha and PI3K-C2beta) enzymes in 104 formalin-fixed, paraffin embedded normal adult human (age 33-71 years, median 44 years) tissue specimens including those from the gastrointestinal, genitourinary, hepatobiliary, endocrine, integument and lymphoid systems. Antibody specificity was verified by Western blotting of cell lysates and peptide blocking studies. Immunohistochemistry intensity was scored from undetectable to strong. RESULTS: PI3K enzymes were expressed in selected cell populations of epithelial or mesenchymal origin. Columnar epithelium and transitional epithelia were reactive but mucous secreting and stratified squamous epithelia were not. Mesenchymal elements (smooth muscle and endothelial cells) and glomerular epithelium were only expressed PI3K-C2alpha while ganglion cells expressed p85 and PI3K-C2beta. All three enzymes were detected in macrophages, which served as an internal positive control. None of the three PI3K isozymes was detected in the stem cell/progenitor compartments or in B lymphocyte aggregates. CONCLUSIONS: Taken together, these data suggest that PI3K enzyme distribution is not ubiquitous but expressed selectively in fully differentiated, non-proliferating cells. Identification of the normal in vivo expression pattern of class IA and class II PI3K paves the way for further analyses which will clarify the role played by these enzymes in inflammatory, neoplastic and other human disease conditions.