The p53 gene encodes a 393 amino acid nuclear phosphoprotein that appears to act as a cell cycle checkpoint, possibly by transactivating other target genes. Abnormalities of the p53 gene are common in a wide range of human tumours and are associated in many cases with immunologically detectable p53 protein. Detection of p53 immunoreactivity is uncommon in normal cells, but is frequently seen in neoplasia. Here we define the optimum conditions for the detection of p53 immunoreactivity in cytological material, including fixation and storage. Immersion in acetone-methanol for 10 min is optimal, and after air drying, smears or cytospin preparations can be stored at -70 degrees C for at least 6 months. We describe the range of controls necessary, including the use of positive control cell lines with known mutations of the p53 gene and defined abnormalities of p53 protein. Negative controls should include cell lines (or strains) with no p53 abnormality as well as the conventional negative immunological controls. It is only with these technical caveats and controls that p53 immunoreactivity can be performed reliably on cytological specimens.