We examined a series of paraffin-embedded tissue specimens from 10 cases of squamous bronchial metaplasia and 33 cases of squamous cell carcinoma of the lung for histologic characteristics and for the presence and typing of human papillomavirus (HPV) by molecular in situ hybridization with biotinylated probes types 6, 11, 16 and 18 under stringent conditions (temperature, 19 degrees C). Fourteen of these lesions (32.5%) showed typical condylomatous histologic changes. Human papillomavirus DNA was present in seven (16%) specimens. Type 6 HPV DNA was detected in one of the squamous bronchial metaplasia cases. In six of the squamous cell carcinomas cases (18%), HPV DNA was identified (type 18, three cases; type 16, one case; type 11, one case; and type 6, one case); one of the squamous cell carcinoma specimens contained both HPV types 16 and 18. Our data confirm the presence of HPV DNA in squamous metaplastic bronchial mucosa and epidermoid lung carcinoma on paraffin-embedded tissues. This suggests that an HPV infection with benign or potentially oncogenic HPV types could be associated not only with genital tumors, but also with bronchial and lung tumors. The role of HPV DNA in the process of malignancy conversion is not yet known; HPV DNA could possibly be a cocarcinogenic factor. In situ hybridization with biotinylated probes is a useful and appropriate method of retrospective analysis of HPV DNA sequences in routinely paraffin-embedded lesions. It may be used to identify patients at risk of more serious or possibly malignant progression.