Human cervical carcinoma cell lines that were either positive or negative for human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA sequences were analyzed for evidence of mutation of the p53 and retinoblastoma genes. Each of five HPV-positive cervical cancer cell lines expressed normal pRB and low levels of wild-type p53 proteins, which are presumed to be altered in function as a consequence of association with HPV E7 and E6 oncoproteins, respectively. In contrast, mutations were identified in the p53 and RB genes expressed in the C-33A and HT-3 cervical cancer cell lines, which lack HPV DNA sequences. Mutations in the p53 genes mapped to codon 273 and codon 245 in the C33-A and HT-3 cell lines, respectively, located in the highly conserved regions of p53, where mutations appear in a variety of human cancers. Mutations in RB occurred at splice junctions, resulting in in-frame deletions, affecting exons 13 and 20 in the HT-3 and C-33A cell lines, respectively. These mutations resulted in aberrant proteins that were not phosphorylated and were unable to complex with the adenovirus E1A oncoprotein. These results support the hypothesis that the inactivation of the normal functions of the tumor-suppressor proteins pRB and p53 are important steps in human cervical carcinogenesis, either by mutation or from complex formation with the HPV E6 and E7 oncoproteins.