We have previously detected an increased frequency of loss of heterozygosity (LOH) on chromosome 18q during progression of colorectal carcinomas. To clarify the target of 18qLOH, mutation of Smad4 and Smad2 genes was analysed in 176 colorectal tumors with different stages, including liver metastasis, from 111 sporadic, 52 familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and nine hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) patients. Mutation of other Smad gene families in the TGF-beta signaling pathway was also examined. Twenty-one Smad4 mutations and one Smad2 mutation were detected, whereas mutation of Smad3, 6 and 7 genes was not detected. Smad4 mutations included seven frameshift, one inframe deletion, four nonsense and nine missense mutations, 95% of which resulted in alteration of Smad4 protein regions included in homo-oligomer and hetero-oligomer formation. Frequencies of tumors with Smad4 mutation were 0/40 (0%) in adenoma, 4/39 (10%) in intramucosal carcinoma, 3/44 (7%) in primary invasive carcinoma without distant metastasis, 6/17 (35%) in primary invasive carcinoma with distant metastasis, and 11/36 (31%) in distant metastasis (metastatic/non-metastatic: P=0.006 approximately 0.01). Loss of the other allele was observed in 19 of 20 (95%) invasive and metastasized carcinomas with Smad4 mutations. In four cases both primary and metastasized carcinomas in the same patients showed the same mutations. The present results suggest that Smad4 gene is one of true targets of 18qLOH, and that its inactivation is involved in advanced stages, such as distant metastasis, in human colorectal carcinogenesis.