Abnormalities of p53 mRNA in adult T-cell leukemia (ATL) were analyzed using reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction-single strand conformation polymorphism analysis. Mutations were present in two of 12 ATL patients studied, but not in 3 cell lines immortalized by human T cell leukemia virus type 1 (HTLV-1) infection in vitro. Direct sequencing analysis of the p53 gene from these two patients revealed missense point mutations at codon 153 (arginine to histidine) or codon 220 (cysteine to tyrosine), respectively. Immunohistochemical analysis revealed the elevated expression of p53 proteins in ATL cells from a patient carrying the mutated p53 gene at codon 158. Neither gross rearrangement of p53 gene nor abnormal size of mRNA for the gene was demonstrated by Southern or Northern blot analyses. Thus, there is a mutated p53 in some patients with ATL. The involvement of abnormalities in some suppressor oncogenes may play a role in the development of ATL.