The molecular basis of both sporadic and neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1)-associated malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumors (MPNSTs) is yet largely undetermined. Therefore, we analyzed a series of 12 MPNSTs - including two cases which arose in the setting of NF1 - for molecular alterations in the p53, retinoblastoma ( Rb), and PTEN tumor suppressor genes. Furthermore, the immunohistochemical expression of p53, RB, and PTEN protein was examined in these tumors. One mutation (8%), an A to T transversion leading to an amino acid exchange, was found in exon 5 of the p53 gene in a sporadic MPNST. In two other sporadic tumors (20%), loss of heterozygosity (LOH) of the p53 gene occurred. Nuclear overexpression of p53 protein was observed in ten tumors (83%). Loss of RB protein expression was seen in two MPNSTs (17%), and LOH of the Rb gene was detected in four tumors (44%), including the two NF1-associated MPNSTs, one of them showing concomitant loss of RB protein expression. No mutation in the PTEN gene was detected, and cytoplasmic immunoreactivity for the PTEN protein was maintained in eight MPNSTs (67%). We suggest that alterations in the p53 and RB pathway, both are essential in controlling the cell-cycle progression, are critical points in the tumorigenesis of sporadic and NF1-associated MPNSTs, whereas the PTEN gene seems to play no significant role in this process.