To investigate the molecular pathogenesis of human gastric cancers the p53 gene, a suppressor oncogene, was analyzed in 12 human gastric cell lines. Southern blot and Northern blot analysis revealed a total deletion of p53 gene in KATO-III cells but no major abnormality of p53 gene in other cell lines. By the use of the reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction and direct sequencing 7 cell lines showed point mutations of p53 gene resulting in amino-acid substitutions. Most of them were rare mutations which had not been observed in other types of cancers. One of these mutations was also detected through the use of PCR and oligomer-specific hybridization. Six out of 7 cell lines with mutations of p53 gene also lost one allele of chromosome 17p. Immunoblotting of cell lysates with an antibody specific to p53 demonstrated the absence of p53 protein in KATO-III cell. By contrast, the high levels of the p53 protein were observed in 5 cell lines all of which contained mutations of p53 gene. These results further suggest that the inactivation of p53 gene may play an important role in the transformation of gastric cells to the malignant phenotype. KATO-III cells might be a good model for studying the significance of the loss of p53 gene in cellular transformation.