Eleven tumors of the ampulla of Vater (5 stage IV and 2 stage II adenocarcinomas, 1 stage II papillary carcinoma, 1 neuroendocrine carcinoma, and 2 adenomas, one with foci of carcinoma) were examined for Ki-ras and p53 gene mutations by single-strand conformation polymorphism analysis and direct sequencing of polymerase chain reaction-amplified DNA fragments. Ki-ras mutations were found in one adenocarcinoma and in the adenoma with foci of carcinoma, both involving mainly the intraduodenal bile duct component of the ampulla. Seven cases showed p53 gene mutations: four advanced-stage adenocarcinomas, the papillary carcinoma, the neuroendocrine carcinoma, and the adenoma with foci of carcinoma. Nuclear accumulation of p53 protein was immunohistochemically detected in the morphologically high-grade areas of the five cancers harboring a p53 gene missense point mutation. The adenomas, the two frame shift-mutated cancers, and the adenomatous and low-grade cancer areas of mutated carcinomas were immunohistochemically negative. Our data suggest that in ampullary neoplasia 1) p53 mutations are common abnormalities associated with the transformation of adenomas and low-grade cancers into morphologically high-grade carcinomas, and 2) Ki-ras mutations are relatively less frequent and might be restricted to tumors originating from the bile duct component of the ampulla.