PURPOSE We present the largest study of both peripheral blood and lymph node samples examining the utility of reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) for established molecular markers as a diagnostic tool in the molecular staging of prostate cancer patients undergoing radical prostatectomy. EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN Peripheral blood from 358 patients was obtained before radical prostatectomy. Corresponding obturatory lymph node samples were collected from 153 of these patients. Nested RT-PCR for prostate-specific antigen (PSA), human kallikrein 2 (hK2), and prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA) were performed on cDNA from peripheral blood. The lymph node cDNA was analyzed for PSA und hK2 expression. RESULTS RT-PCR in peripheral blood was positive in 124 (34.6%) of 358 samples for PSA, 215 (60.1%) of 358 for PSMA, and 97 (27.1%) of 358 for hK2. Comparison of positive RT-PCR rates of pT(2) and pT(3) tumors in corresponding peripheral blood for PSA, PSMA, and hK2 were 31.9 and 40.0%, 58.8 and 62.5%, and 26.9 and 27.5%, respectively. Histopathologically, cancer-free lymph node samples were positive in RT-PCR for PSA and hK2 in 70 (49.6%) of 141 and 89 (63.2%) of 141 of cases. All histologically positive lymph node samples (n = 12, pN+) were positive for PSA RT-PCR. PSA RT-PCR alone, as well as combined PSA/PSMA RT-PCR evaluation, in peripheral blood showed a significant association with grading. PSA RT-PCR lymph node-negative samples were significantly less likely positive in their corresponding peripheral blood RT-PCR sample. CONCLUSIONS Although the preoperative PSA RT-PCR in peripheral blood correlated with the grading of prostate cancer, no combination of RT-PCR results using "triple" markers (PSA, hK2, PSMA) in peripheral blood and/or lymph nodes yielded additional preoperative staging information.