BACKGROUND Ever since the classification of pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PanIN) was published, studies on the precursor lesions of pancreatic cancer have been advancing along a new directions, using standardized terminology. There are few studies that have examined the biological differences between PanIN and intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasm (IPMN) in detail. AIMS PanIN and IPMN, which are similar in morphology, were compared using various indicators, with the aim of identifying the similarities and differences between the two. METHODOLOGY A total of 46 PanINs and 37 ducts with IPMN were identified in 19 patients with invasive ductal carcinoma and 18 patients with IPMN. These PanINs and IPMNs were examined immunohistologically with respect to the expression patterns of HER2/neu, DPC4/Smad4, Akt/PKB, p53, cyclin A, Ki67, MUC1, and MUC2. RESULTS Significant differences in the expression of MUC1 and MUC2 were observed between IPMNadenoma and PanIN-2 and between CIS and PanIN-3 (MUC1: p = 0.001 and p = 0.005, respectively; MUC2: p = 0.002 and p < 0.001, respectively). A significant difference in the p53 expression level was also observed between CIS and PanIN-3 (p = 0.015). CONCLUSIONS In both IPMN and PanIN, the grade of atypism increased with increasing expression of HER2/neu, DPC4/Smad4, and Akt/PKB, along with progression in the process of multistage carcinogenesis. Although the expression levels of these factors reflected the grade of atypism, they did not reflect any differences in the grade of biological malignancy between IPMN and PanIN. On the other hand, MUC1 and MUC2 may serve as indicators of the direction of differentiation, i.e., either progression to IDAC or IPMN. Positivity for MUC1 was believed to suggest differentiation into IDAC, and positivity for MUC2 appeared to be indicative of differentiation into IPMN. Such indication of the direction of differentiation seemed to appear in PanIN1-2, even before abnormalities of HER2/neu, Akt/PKB, DPC4/Smad4, p53, and cyclin A expression began to be detected.