AIDS is associated with a high risk of certain malignancies, notably Kaposi's sarcoma (KS) and B-cell non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL). The pathogenesis of these malignancies is not fully understood. One mechanism of malignant transformation recently described in colon tumorigenesis results from defects in DNA mismatch repair, manifest as widespread microsatellite instability. We demonstrate a high rate of microsatellite instability in KS and aggressive lymphomas obtained from HIV-infected patients, whereas there is no evidence of instability in similar lesions from HIV-negative patients. Further elucidation of the underlying mechanisms responsible for HIV-associated instability in primary tumours may provide insight into the pathogenesis of these AIDS-related neoplasms.