The role of p53 in the pathogenesis and progression of Wilms' tumors is only partly understood. Although p53 mutations were initially reported only in anaplastic Wilms' tumors, we had reported that, of two of twenty-one cases that had a p53 mutation, one tumor showed no evidence of anaplasia. To determine the significance of p53 expression in all clinical stages of Wilms' tumor, twenty-eight cases were analyzed for p53 immunoreactivity. Paraffin sections were immunolabeled with two different monoclonal antibodies, recognizing both mutant and wild-type p53. Fifteen of sixteen tumors in the recurrent/metastatic group and three of twelve tumors in the nonmetastatic/nonrecurrent group showed p53 immunopositivity. Only one of three positive tumors in the latter group showed moderate to strong positivity, whereas twelve of sixteen metastatic/recurrent tumors revealed a similar degree of p53 positivity. The positivity was stronger in the metastasis/recurrences as compared with the corresponding primary tumor. Western blot analysis revealed p53 expression in all of the Wilms' tumors tested, suggesting its involvement in the development of Wilms' tumors. Single-strand conformation polymorphism analysis performed on twenty-three of these tumors revealed p53 mutations in four of fourteen recurrent/metastatic tumors and none in the nonmetastatic/nonrecurrent group. Our results show that, whereas 60% of cases were immunopositive for p53 protein, mutations were detected in only 16% of tumors, indicating that wild-type p53 protein is retained in the other tumors. We conclude that p53 immunopositivity strongly correlates with recurrence/metastasis in Wilms' tumors. Furthermore, the accumulation of p53 in these tumors is not only due to mutations but may also involve stabilization of normal p53 with other proteins.