CD44, the main cell surface receptor for hyaluronan (HA), is often overexpressed in tumour cells, and its presence has been related to cell proliferation and migration. Many of the functions of CD44 are mediated through its interaction with hyaluronan. This study investigated the expression of CD44 in CML-1 and CML-10c2 canine melanoma cell lines and melanoma biopsies, and the production of hyaluronan and versican by the canine melanoma cell lines. Versican is an extracellular proteoglycan that binds hyaluronan, forming a tridimensional pericellular coat surrounding the cells. Both canine melanoma cell lines expressed CD44 and produced HA, but only CML-1 produced versican. Cells expressing all three components (CD44, HA and versican) formed abundant extracellular matrices as demonstrated by a particle exclusion assay. CD44 was present within benign and malignant melanomas, but its expression was more intense in malignant melanomas (P < 0.01). In high CD44-expressing tumours, CD44 tended to be present in the periphery of malignant melanomas, whereas its expression was homogeneous in benign melanomas. © 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.