In an attempt to characterize the molecular alterations of cervical adenocarcinoma, we analyzed 32 paraffin-embedded specimens for the presence of K-ras mutations, p53 overexpression, p16 and Rb protein expression, and the presence of HPV 16 and 18 DNA. Overall 25/32 (78%) of the tumors displayed an abnormality in at least one of these analyses. K-ras mutations were detected by PCR amplification and RFLP analysis in 3 tumors, including 2 at codon 12 and 1 at codon 61. p53 overexpression determined by immunohistochemistry was demonstrated with > 80% of tumor nuclei staining in 4 cases, 10-15% of nuclei staining in 3 cases, and < 1% of nuclei staining in 5 cases. The pattern of staining was diffuse in 6 cases, focal in 1 case, and scattered in 5 cases. Analysis of p16 protein expression in 23 specimens revealed 1 tumor with abnormal staining, while Rb protein expression was determined to be normal in all 25 tumors tested. HPV DNA, detected by PCR with type-specific primers, was found in 16 tumors (50%), including 7 (22%) with HPV 16 and 9 (28%) with HPV 18. There was no correlation among these abnormalities except that the presence of HPV and strong p53 overexpression (> 80% tumor nuclei staining) were mutually exclusive events. Clinical correlation demonstrated that p53 overexpression involving the majority of tumor cell nuclei is characteristic of advanced stage disease, while HPV positivity and activated ras genes are associated with early stage disease.