Since mutated p53 is one of the most frequent gene abnormalities in human cancer, we hypothesized that mutation of p53 may play an important role in growth and recurrence of pterygia, a dysplasia of the conjunctiva. Therefore, we compared pterygia of Japanese and Tunisian patients using antibodies against p53, p21 and proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA). In Nagasaki, 21 pterygia of Japanese individuals were removed and in Gabes, 19 primary pterygia of Tunisian individuals. Positive staining of wild type p53 was not found in the Japanese pterygia, whereas 38.1% were positive for mutant p53, none were positive for p21 and 76.2% were positive for PCNA. The incidence of mutant p53-positive staining was 50.0% in males and 22.2% in females, which was statistically significant. In the 19 Tunisian patients, positive staining of wild type p53 was not found, whereas 36.8% were positive for mutant p53, 0% for p21 and 63.1% for PCNA. Differences between Japanese patients and Tunisian patients were not significant. There were 2 types of pterygium. One type did not show mutant p53 and the other showed mutant p53 caused by ultraviolet light. However, damage caused by p53-dependent programmed cell death of pterygium cells may lead to mutations in other genes which may allow the progressive multistep development of limbal tumors. It is possible that mutant p53-positive pterygia can develop into limbal tumors.