The p53 gene is a tumor suppressor gene involved in many common malignancies, including astrocytomas. Genetic analysis of the p53 gene and immunohistochemistry of the p53 protein have each been used to screen astrocytomas. To compare these methods, we performed immunohistochemistry with the monoclonal antibody PAb 1801 and single-strand conformational polymorphism (SSCP) with sequence analysis on 34 astrocytic tumors (WHO grades II, III and IV). Seven cases had detectable p53 protein and gene mutations, while twelve cases had neither detectable protein nor gene mutations. Four tumors had frameshift mutations in the p53 gene that were not revealed by immunohistochemistry. One tumor had a genetic polymorphism and no detectable p53 protein. Ten tumors had p53 protein accumulation but no mutations by SSCP; these cases may represent p53 mutations outside of the conserved exons or elevated levels of wild-type p53 protein. Thus, some p53 mutations are missed with PAb 1801 immunohistochemistry alone. p53 immunohistochemistry, however, may reveal p53 accumulation independent of mutations in the conserved portions of the gene. Finally, we suggest that glioblastomas with p53 mutations in the conserved region of the gene may be a subset that are more common in women and in younger patients.