As the pathogenesis of pituitary adenomas remains unclear, the tumor clonal composition of these common neoplasms was studied. Clonality was determined in female patients by analysis of restriction fragment length polymorphisms of the X-chromosome genes hypoxanthine phosphoribosyl transferase and phosphoglycerate kinase in conjunction with their respective methylation patterns. Peripheral lymphocyte DNA was screened from 62 female patients undergoing transsphenoidal surgery for pituitary adenoma. Eleven patients were heterozygous for the BglI site on PGK, 4 for the BamHI site on HPRT, and 1 patient for both sites. Of these 16 patients, 3 had acromegaly, 4 had Cushing's disease, 7 had hyperprolactinemia, and 2 were clinically nonfunctional. After surgery, morphological study, including immunohistochemistry and electron microscopy of the pathological specimens, allowed a direct comparison between clonality and tumor cell type. Control fresh normal pituitary tissue was found to be polyclonal. The following tumors were monoclonal: all 3 somatotroph adenomas, 4 of 4 lactotroph tumors, 3 of 4 corticotroph cell adenomas, a gonadotroph adenoma, and a nonsecretory adenoma. A mixed plurihormonal adenoma was polyclonal, as were 2 tumors consisting of adenomatous lactotrophs interspersed with nontumorous adenohypophyseal pituitary tissue and one corticotroph adenoma mixed with normal pituitary tissue. Functional pituitary adenomas derived from somatotrophs, corticotrophs, or lactotrophs and nonsecretory tumors are monoclonal in nature, suggesting that somatic cell mutations precede clonal expansion of these cells and play a major role in pituitary tumorigenesis.