The INK4 locus has two promoters and encodes two unique proteins that share exons in different reading frames, p16(INK4a) and p14(ARF). The p16(INK4a) protein, by inhibiting cyclin-dependent kinase, down regulates Rb-E2F and leads to cell cycle arrest in the G1 phase. The p14(ARF) protein interacts with the MDM2 protein, neutralizing MDM2-mediated degradation of p53. Since p53/Rb genes are not altered in malignant mesothelioma, additional components of these pathways, such as p16(INK4a) and p14(ARF), are candidates for inactivation. In this study, we have examined p16(INK4a) and p14(ARF) alterations (gene deletion, mutation and promoter methylation) in 45 primary malignant mesothelioma specimens. Fourteen patients (31%) had altered p16; four tumors had a methylated promoter region (8.8%), 10 tumors showed p16 to be deleted (22.2%), and one tumor had a point mutation (2%). We did not find any instances of methylation in the p14(ARF) 5'-CpG island. Patients whose tumors had p16 deletion were significantly younger than those with methylation, and, in the patients whose lungs were studied for the prevalence of asbestos fibers, those with any p16 alteration had lower fiber counts than those with no p16 alteration. Hence, p16 gene alteration is relatively common in malignant mesothelioma, while p14(ARF) is rarely, if ever, methylated. Our data suggest that deletion of p16 occurs in a relatively susceptible subset of the population.