The two gene products of the CDKN2A gene, p16 and p19ARF, have recently been linked to each of two major tumour suppressor pathways in human carcinogenesis, the RB1 pathway and the p53 pathway. p16 inhibits the phosphorylation of the retinoblastoma gene product by cyclin D-dependent kinases, whereas p19ARF targets MDM2, a p53 inhibitory protein, for degradation. A deletion of CDKN2A would therefore disturb both pathways. To explore the p53 pathway genes as a functional unit in diffuse large B cell non-Hodgkin's lymphomas (DLCL), we wanted to see whether there exists mutually exclusiveness of aberrations of CDKN2A, MDM2 and p53, since this has not been analysed previously. We investigated 37 DLCL for aberrations of p15, p16, p19ARF, MDM2, and p53 at the epigenetic, genetic and/or protein levels. Homozygous deletion of CDKN2A was detected in seven (19%) of 37 tumours, and another three cases were hypermethylated at the 5' CpG island of p16. No point mutations were found in CDKN2B or CDKN2A. Immunohistochemical staining of formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissue for p16 confirmed these results, as all tumours with alterations of CDKN2A were p16 immunonegative. We found p53 mutations in eight (22%) cases and MDM2 overexpression in 16 (43%) tumours. Twenty-three (62%) tumours had alterations of one or more p53 pathway components (p53, p19ARF and MDM2). Furthermore, 7/9 (78%) p16-immunonegative tumours showed co-aberration of p53 and/or MDM2. The lack of correlation between these aberrations suggests that DLCL acquire additional growth advantage by inactivating both of these critical regulatory pathways.