In order to reveal whether differences in the type and site of p53 gene mutations influence the function of the gene and tumor phenotype, we examined nuclear accumulation of the p53 protein immunohistochemically, loss of the other p53 allele by restriction-fragment-length polymorphism analysis, and histological grade of atypia in 52 breast-cancer tissue specimens in which the position and pattern of the mutation were identified. When mis-sense point mutations or deletions of 3n bases (n = 1, 2, ...), which did not cause a frameshift downstream, occurred within codons 110-180 or 234-285, containing highly conserved regions, the p53 protein was almost always (92%) accumulated in nuclei in a majority of the cancer cells. When these mutations occurred outside these regions, only 46% of the cases showed nuclear accumulation of the protein in a majority of cancer cells. In tumors with non-sense point mutations or deletion of 3n + 1 or 3n + 2 bases (n = 0, 1, 2, ...), which caused a downstream frameshift, nuclear accumulation of the p53 protein was absent in 93% of cases. Irrespective of the mutation site or pattern, a majority of cases showing p53 mutation revealed loss of heterozygosity on 17p13 (83%), which suggested they do not carry wild-type p53 allele, and the highest histological grade of atypia (90%). Regardless of differences in their protein-expression pattern, a majority of the p53 gene mutations were suggested to function in a recessive mode and to be involved in the development of histologically aggressive breast cancer.