Loss of heterozygosity (LOH) on chromosomes 1p, 4q, 5q, 8p, 13q, 16q, 17p, and 22q, and mutation of the p53 gene were simultaneously analyzed in 63 hepatocellular carcinomas (HCCs) with distinct histopathological grades, 80% of the tumors being from patients who had been exposed to hepatitis B virus (HBV) or hepatitis C virus (HCV). The frequencies of LOH on 8 chromosomes were 0-25% in 10 well differentiated HCCs, LOH being observed on 4q, 5q and 17p, 21-53% in 26 moderately differentiated HCCs, LOH on 8p and 17p being high, and 29-75% in 27 poorly differentiated HCCs, LOH on 17p, 4q and 8p being the most frequent. p53 gene mutation was detected in moderately and poorly differentiated HCCs at 15% and 52%, respectively, but not at all in well differentiated HCCs. Of the mutations detected, 42% were transition mutation and only 5% were CpG transition, in contrast to the high frequencies of these types of mutations in colon tumors (78% and 54%, respectively). LOH on every chromosome and p53 mutation were more frequent in more advanced tumors, and accumulation of genetic changes increased with increase of the histopathological grade. Frequency of genetic changes in HCCs from HBV-positive patients was comparable to that from HCV-positive patients. The present results suggest that accumulation of genetic changes in multiple tumor suppressor genes, especially LOH on 17p, 4q and 8p, and mutation in p53 gene, are involved in the progression of liver cancer, and LOH on 17p and 4q precedes other genetic changes. Differences in the direction of p53 mutation between HCC and colon carcinoma suggest that liver carcinogens are distinct from colon carcinogens. Furthermore, mechanisms affecting the frequency of LOH in HCCs in HBV-infected patients may be similar to those in HCV-infected patients.