Inactivation of the P16 (INK4A)/retinoblastoma (RB) or TP53 biochemical pathway is frequent event in most human cancers. Recent evidence has shown that P14ARF binds to MDM2 leading to an increased availability of wild type TP53 protein. Functional studies also support a putative tumor suppressor gene function for p14ARF suggesting that p14ARF or p53 inactivation may be functionally equivalent in tumorigenesis. To study the relative contribution of each pathway in tumorigenesis, we analysed and compared alterations of the p16, p14ARF and p53 genes in 38 primary non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLCs) (19 adenocarcinomas and 19 squamous carcinoma). The p16 tumor suppressor gene was inactivated in 22 of 38 (58%) tumors. Twelve of these samples (31%) had homozygous deletions by microsatellite analysis; eight of them (21%) had p16 promoter hypermethylation detected by Methylation Specific PCR (MSP) and the remaining two (5%) harbored a point mutation in exon 2 by sequence analysis. The absence of P16 protein in every case was confirmed by immunohistochemistry. Fourteen of the 22 tumors with p16 inactivation also inactivated the p14ARF gene (12 with homozygous deletions extending into INK4a/ARF and two with exon 2 mutations). Mutations of p53 were found in 18 (47%) of the tumors and nine of them (50%) harbored p14ARF inactivation. Thus, an inverse correlation was not found between p14ARF and p53 genetic alterations (P=0.18; Fisher Exact Test). Our data confirm that the p16 gene is frequently inactivated in NSCLC. Assuming that 9p deletion occurs first, the common occurrence of p53 and p14ARF alterations suggests that p14ARF inactivation is not functionally equivalent to abrogation of the TP53 pathway by p53 mutation.