Analyses of cancer cell lines and of anal cancers suggest an inverse correlation between infection with human papillomavirus (HPV) and somatic mutation of the p53 tumour-suppressor gene. We have investigated this association in primary cervical tumours. Tumour-tissue samples from 28 women with primary cancer of the cervix were analysed for presence of HPV sequences and for somatic mutations of the p53 gene. Southern blot analysis and the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) showed that 25 of the tumours contained HPV sequences; 20 were HPV16 positive and 5 HPV18 positive. 17 tumours subjected to restriction fragment length polymorphism analysis for the short arm of chromosome 17 showed no evidence of allelic deletion. Sequencing of the entire coding region of the p53 gene by asymmetric PCR detected heterozygous point mutations in only 3 HPV-negative tumours. By contrast, in 21 HPV-positive cancers the p53 sequence was wild-type throughout. Our data indicate that loss of wild-type p53 function is important in the pathology of cervical cancer and that in the absence of an HPV-encoded gene product that mediates loss of p53 function, somatic mutation of the gene is required. This pattern of p53 mutation may partly explain the apparently worse prognosis of HPV-negative cervical cancers.