Primary lung cancer samples of the major histological types were examined for expression of the tumor suppressor gene p53 by immunohistochemistry. Abnormalities in p53 expression were found in 28 of 40 carcinomas, 14 of 17 squamous tumours showing abnormal p53 expression, whereas no expression of p53 was detectable in 7 carcinoid tumours or in 10 normal lung samples. Direct evidence for homozygous expression of mutant p53 mRNA in representative carcinomas was obtained by means of an asymmetric polymerase chain reaction mRNA sequencing strategy, which allowed sequencing without any cloning step. All the mutations were G to T transversions resulting in mis-sense mutations in aminoacids highly conserved in evolution. Mutation of the p53 gene is the most frequently identified genetic change in human lung cancer; these findings suggest that simple immunohistological methods can provide strong evidence of such mutation.