The K-ras and p53 genes are two of the most frequently mutated genes found in the human colonic tumors. Since azoxymethane (AOM) induced rat colonic neoplasms are similar to human colonic tumors in their histological features and proliferation characteristics, the rat has been used as an experimental model to study the pathogenesis of colon cancer in humans. Although the presence of K-ras point mutations has been reported in AOM induced rat colonic tumors, there are no reports describing the frequency for mutation of the p53 gene in these tumors. In this study, colon adenocarcinomas induced in rats by AOM were examined for the presence of point mutations in exons 5-8 of the p53 gene, using a combination of single strand conformation (SSCP) analysis, immunohistochemistry and direct DNA sequencing. SSCP analysis showed no differences in banding patterns between the normal mucosa and any of the 20 adenocarcinomas analyzed. Nuclear p53 immunoreactivity was absent in all tumors examined. Since p53 point mutations predominate in malignant colonic tumors, five adenocarcinomas with the greatest local invasiveness were analyzed by direct DNA sequencing of exons 5-8 of the p53 gene. Direct DNA sequencing did not reveal mutations in any of the adenocarcinomas analyzed, within the coding region of p53 gene that were sequenced. The results from the present study indicate that point mutations in the p53 gene, at least in the coding region (exons 5-8) are not involved in the development of colon cancer induced by AOM in the rat.