Twenty-three conjunctival papillomas and 28 conjunctival dysplasias were examined for human papillomavirus (HPV)-DNA sequences by in situ hybridization with nick-translated 35S-labeled HPV probes. Adjacent paraffin sections were hybridized with HPV type 2, 6, 16, and 18 probes at Tm - 17 degrees C. Fifteen tissues, all papillomas, displayed positive hybridization with the HPV-6 probe. Infection with HPV-6 (or the closely related HPV-11) appeared to be responsible for most of the conjunctival papillomas of children and young adults. The presence of genital tract HPV-6 in these lesions suggests that some of the infections were acquired during passage through an infected birth canal. The lack of hybridization in adult conjunctival dysplasias indicates either that HPVs are not associated with this condition or that the probes and the technique utilized were not adequate for demonstration of this association.