p53 expression was studied immunohistochemically to identify a precursor lesion of basal cell carcinoma (BCC) in the epidermis adjacent to BCC. With two different anti-p53 antibodies of CM1 and DO7, p53 expression was frequently detected in the epidermis adjacent to BCCs arising on the face and in the normal epidermis with usual sun exposure. In the epidermis adjacent to BCC, stained cells were occasionally clustered in a small area, but no cluster was found in the normal epidermis with usual sun exposure. The expression was less frequent in the normal epidermis with rare sun exposure. Ten cases of normal skin with usual sun exposure, showing CM1 staining in the epidermis, were screened for p53 gene mutations with polymerase chain reaction-single-strand conformation polymorphism analysis using DNAs obtained from the epidermis. No mutation was detected in exons 2 to 10 of the p53 gene in these 10 cases. The epidermis flanking three BCCs that was stained with CM1, on the other hand, carried a missense mutation of C to G transversion at a dipyrimidine site of codon 249. This alteration replaced arginine with threonine. The mutation of codon 249 was not detected in the three BCCs. Our results first suggest that ultraviolet light irradiating the skin in a daily life induces p53 accumulation in the epidermis and secondly that the frequent clonal expansion of p53 mutant cells occurs in the epidermis adjacent to BCCs. This clonal expansion of mutant p53 may provide a molecular basis for high risk of developing subsequent new skin cancers in patients with BCC.