Using a combination of polymerase chain reaction and single-strand conformation polymorphism techniques we analyzed 34 ovarian cancer samples (30 primary tumors and four matched metastases) for the presence of mutations in exons 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 of the p53 gene. Mutations in this portion of the gene are known to lead to the loss of the oncosuppressive potential of p53. Thirty-six percent (11/30) of the ovarian carcinomas tested presented a mutated p53 allele. Mutations were clustered in exons 5 and 7 to the exclusion of the other exons screened. Most mutations (10/11) were point mutations, but no preferential pattern of nucleotide substitution could be observed. In three tumors the mutation of one allele was concomitant with the loss of the wild-type counterpart. Another sample presented both alleles independently mutated. These observations are in agreement with the recessive nature of the p53 mutation. However, analysis of tissue sections from two tumors showed that the portion composed of 100% cancer cells could hold both the mutated and the wild-type form. Moreover analysis of serial sections gave evidence of a heterogeneous cellular content in one of these tumors, suggesting that p53 mutations may, in some cases, occur late during ovarian cancer evolution. It is, moreover, noticeable that, in matched sets of primary tumors and metastases, the same mutation was observed in both tumor samples. Therefore, even as a late event, p53 mutation occurs before metastatic spread.