WAF1/CIP1, a gene up-regulated by p53 encodes an inhibitor of cyclin-dependent kinases. Induction of WAF1/CIP1 in cells with intact p53 is believed to be instrumental in cell cycle arrest and apoptosis caused by DNA damage. In a model system, WAF1/CIP1 has been shown to have tumor suppressive activity. It is not known however whether WAF1/CIP1 is mutated in human primary tumors. Cells from colorectal cancer have been shown to acquire a series of genetic alterations, including frequent p53 mutations. Thus colorectal tumors, particularly those without identified p53 mutations, are good candidate to search for putative WAF1/CIP1 mutations. DNA extracted from 45 tumors, (including 28 tumors for which p53 mutations had previously been searched for and not found) were PCR amplified for exon 2 of WAF1/CIP1. A search for point mutations was performed in each amplified product using a denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) technique which enables the efficient screening of codons 9 to 139 (i.e. 80% of the WAF1/CIP1 coding sequence). Two different DNA variants were identified and shown to be present in constitutional DNAs of the corresponding patients. The first variant, a C to A transversion at codon 31, changes a serine for an arginine and was detected in eight tumors (18% of the cases). The second variant, detected in a single case (2%) is a silent A to T transversion at the third base of codon 91. DNA extracted from 70 unrelated members from the Centre d'Etude du Polymorphisme Humain (CEPH) was screened for these polymorphisms. The ser/arg polymorphism of codon 31 was detected in seven cases (10%) thus suggesting that it is not associated with a marked colorectal cancer predisposition. The polymorphism on codon 91 was not detected. Two additional variants (arginine to histidine at position 67 and threonine to methionine at position 80) were observed once each in the CEPH family members. Somatic mutation of the WAF1/CIP1 gene was not observed, indicating that, unless there are hot spots for mutations outside the screened region, this gene is not a frequent site of point mutation in colorectal cancer.