The murine double minutes 2 (MDM2) oncoprotein inhibits p53-mediated tumor suppression. MDM2 has been shown to be overexpressed in sarcomas and more recently was implicated in the pathogenesis of carcinomas. The purpose of this study was to determine the expression pattern of MDM2 in adenomas and colorectal adenocarcinomas and decide whether there is a correlation between MDM2 and p53 protein status. Paraffin-embedded tissues from 52 colorectal cancer (CRC) specimens and their adjacent normal tissue (N-CRC) were studied. In addition, 56 sporadic adenomas were investigated for the immunohistochemical expression of MDM2 and p53 proteins. Immunoreactivity of p53 indicating p53 gene mutation (p53+) was significantly higher in CRC (44%) compared to adenomas (23.2%) (P <0.01). None of the N-CRC specimens expressed the immunoreactive p53 protein. MDM2 overexpression (MDM2+) was similar in adenomas (30.3%) and CRC (25%), but only 2 (3.8%) of 52 N-CRC specimens showed overexpression of MDM2. In most cases MDM2 expression was associated with negative p53 expression (wild-type p53) in both adenomas (r = 0.59, P <0.001) and CRC (r = 0.69, P <0. 0001). No correlation was found between MDM2, p53 expression, and either the histologic grade, nodal stage or morphology of the tumors. There is greater p53 mutation in CRC compared to adenomas and N-CRC. The data indicate that MDM2 is overexpressed in CRC and is significantly associated with wild-type p53 compared to N-CRC specimens from the same patient. The MDM2 expression pattern is similar in adenomas and CRC, which may suggest that MDM2 overexpression is an early event in the progression of CRC.