p16INK4A is a cell cycle inhibitor that is commonly inactivated in human tumors and tumor cell lines. Despite its importance in human neoplasia, the normal pattern of p16 expression remains largely unknown. Therefore, we analyzed the immunohistochemical localization of p16 in all human organs and demonstrated that cellular p16 expression is highly selective. In adults, proliferative endometrium, breast ductal epithelium, squamous and tubal metaplastic epithelium of the uterine cervix, esophageal squamous epithelium, salivary glands, and antral gastric glands all strongly express the protein. p16 is also widely expressed in endocrine glands, including Langerhans cells in the pancreas and anterior pituicytes and Leydig and Sertoli cells in testis. Within each tissue, however, p16 expression does not correlate with cellular proliferation or maturation. In infants, p16 staining was limited to thymic Hassall's corpuscles, occasional thymic lymphocytes, and only rare pancreatic epithelial cells. Therefore, increased expression of p16 in adult tissues, as in mouse tissues, may reflect a role of p16 in cellular senescence. Restriction of p16 expression in infants to the thymus, the only organ committed to early senescence, is also consistent with such a role. Documentation of the pattern of p16 expression in normal tissues will contribute to our understanding of the normal function of this protein and to interpretation of potentially altered p16 expression in human tumors.