Anaplastic carcinoma of the thyroid gland, which is one of the most aggressive, malignant tumors in humans, is considered to originate from preexisting differentiated thyroid cancer. To define the genetic alterations associated with such progression, we examined nine cases of anaplastic thyroid carcinoma for mutation in exons 4-9 of the p53 tumor suppressor gene. Preliminary screening for mutation by RNase protection analysis demonstrated that two out of nine anaplastic carcinomas contained sequence alterations in the p53 gene. Subsequent DNA sequencing identified the mutated nucleotides in these two cases; one was a nonsense mutation at codon 165, and the other was a single-base deletion at codon 176 resulting in the creation of a stop codon downstream due to frameshift. The fact that no mutations were detected in coexisting foci of papillary carcinomas from the same patients shows that these mutations of the p53 gene occurred after development of papillary carcinomas. These results suggest that p53 gene mutation triggers the progression from differentiated into anaplastic carcinoma in the human thyroid gland.