We have used polyclonal anti-synthetic peptide serum to study the role of retinoblastoma gene (RB) inactivation in a variety of human tumor cell lines. Our analysis indicates that inactivation of the RB protein, p105-Rb, is universal in retinoblastoma cells, vindicating the predictions of the Knudson "two-hit" hypothesis. In addition, our analysis has shown that inactivations of the RB gene are nearly as frequent in a more common human tumor, small cell lung carcinoma. One-third of bladder carcinomas surveyed also carry altered or absent p105-Rb. Other human tumors by contrast demonstrate only infrequent inactivation of the RB gene. These results suggest that inactivation of the RB gene is a critical step in the pathogenesis of a subset of human tumors.