The p53 tumour-suppressor gene plays an important role in gastric carcinogenesis. In an analysis of the spectrum of mutations of the p53 gene seen in 56 primary gastric carcinomas of various types and grades of differentiation, the entire coding sequence (exons 2-11) of the p53 gene was screened by single-strand conformation polymorphism analysis and direct genomic sequencing of polymerase chain reaction products. Intragenic restriction site polymorphisms and the probe YNZ22 were used for the detection of loss of heterozygosity (LOH) of the p53 gene locus on chromosome 17p. p53 overexpression was studied with the anti-p53 antibody CM-1. A total of 21 somatic alterations of the p53 gene were found. Twenty were base-pair substitutions, and one was an eight base-pair deletion. Six tumours with p53 mutations revealed LOH. Abnormalities in p53 expression were found in 17 tumour samples, of which 16 had gene mutations. The spectrum of mutations observed was consistent with the predicted spectrum for dietary mutagens associated with the metabolism of nitrogenous compounds, resulting in deamination of nucleic acids. Our findings suggest that p53 could be a primary target for mutations associated with dietary carcinogens in gastric carcinogenesis.