The tumor suppressor genes p53, Rb, and DCC were studied in five human oral cancer cell lines (FaDu, SCC-4, HEp-2, 1483, and OEC-M1) and in primary normal human oral keratinocytes (NHOK). All tested cancer lines had similar amount of p53 messages to normal cells, but the cancer lines FaDu and SCC-4 contained significantly higher p53 protein levels than did the normal counterpart. Sequencing p53 cDNA for these cancer cells showed point mutations: In the FaDu cell line, a mutation of CGG to CTG occurred at codon 248; and in the SCC-4 cell line, a mutation of CCC to TCC occurred at codon 151. The HEp-2 and 1483 cancer lines translated very low levels of p53 protein compared to the normal counterpart. Sequencing of p53 cDNA for HEp-2 and 1483 lines showed no mutations. Southern and Northern analyses revealed that these cell lines harbored HPV-18 DNA and expressed the viral E6/E7 protein. The OEC-M1 line showed different restriction fragment length polymorphism for the p53 gene compared with other cells, and did not express p53. All oral cancer cell lines except the OEC-M1 cells expressed both phosphorylated and hypophosphorylated Rb proteins. Further, the OEC-M1 line expressed smaller sized hypophosphorylated Rb proteins compared with normal cells. Unlike the other cancer lines, the HEp-2 and OEC-M1 lines also did not contain DCC mRNAs. These data indicate that "high risk" HPV infections and mutations of p53, Rb, and DCC genes are frequently found in oral cancer cells and may be associated with oral cancer.