It has been recognized that gastric cancer often shows histological heterogeneity in a single tumor. Although microsatellite instability (MSI) has been reported in gastric cancer, the significance of genomic instability in gastric cancers with histological heterogeneity within a single tumor has never been addressed. We investigated MSI at 8 microsatellite loci in 40 normal/tumor DNA pairs from 20 gastric cancers with histological heterogeneity. Six of 20 patients (10 DNAs of 40 tumor DNAs) had severe MSI in more than 3 loci. Four of the MSI-positive cases had frameshift mutations in the poly(A)10 tract of the TGF beta RII gene. This mutation was found only in the MSI-positive component in the 2 cases (cases 4 and 5) in which only 1 component exhibited MSI. The other 4 cases demonstrated homozygous or heteroclonal mutations (1 and 2 base deletions) in the poly(A)8 tract of the hMSH3 gene; no mutation was detected in the poly(C)8 tract of the hMSH6 gene in any of the MSI-positive cases. The profile of alterations in multiple targets was different between the 2 components in most of the cases (5/6). These findings suggest that mismatch repair deficiency in MSI-positive tumors causes multiple gene inactivations through frameshift mutations in short repetitive sequences in a heterogeneous way within a histologically heterogeneous tumor.