In a total of 26 primary human lung tumors and 60 metastases derived from them, exons 5-8 of the p53 tumor suppressor gene were analyzed by single-strand conformation polymorphism and subsequent direct DNA sequencing of amplified DNA. Mutational inactivation of the p53 gene was identified in four of five squamous cell carcinomas, three of nine adenocarcinomas, and two of nine small-cell carcinomas, the overall incidence being 35%. Point mutations occurred at a similar incidence in exons 5-8, with a preference for G-->T transversions. In seven of nine cases (78%), mutations were identical in the primary tumor and all of its metastases, indicating that in lung tumors, p53 mutations usually precede metastasis and that hematogenic and lymphogenic dissemination of tumor cells to other tissues is not associated with a selection against p53 inactivation. In one case, a kidney metastasis had the same mutation as the primary squamous cell carcinoma, whereas a liver metastasis had no mutation, indicating heterogeneity of the primary lung neoplasm and selective metastasis of mutated and nonmutated tumor cells to kidney and liver, respectively. Only in one liver metastasis was a mutation identified that was neither present in the primary lung tumor nor in a kidney metastasis, suggesting that occasionally p53 mutations occur after metastatic spread.