p53 and the murine double minute 2 (MDM2) oncoprotein expression was evaluated in paraffin-embedded tissue from 61 patients with central nervous system gliomas (53 astrocytomas and eight oligodendrogliomas) and related to proliferation-associated markers [i.e. proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA), Ki-67 and nuclear organizer regions (NORs)] and epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). We used the monoclonal antibodies PC-10, MIB-1, DO-1, 1B1O and EGFR 113 and the colloid silver nitrate (AgNOR) technique. MDM2 and p53 were co-expressed in 28% of cases. A p53-positive/MDM2-negative phenotype was observed in 15% and a p53-negative/MDM2-positive phenotype in 20% of cases. There was a positive correlation of p53 and MDM2 expression with grade and proliferation indices. Univariate analysis in the group of diffuse astrocytomas showed that older age, high histological grade, high PCNA labelling index (LI) and high AgNOR score were associated with reduced overall survival (P < 0.05). p53 LI, Ki-67 LI, AgNOR score, tumour location and grade influenced disease-free survival (P < 0.05), whereas the only parameters affecting post-relapse survival were histological grade and Ki-67 LI (P < 0.1). Multivariate analysis revealed that age, radiotherapy, PCNA LI and p53 LI were the independent predictors of overall survival. p53 LI, Ki-67 LI, MDM2 LI, EGFR LI, grade and type of therapy were independent predictors of disease-free survival, and grade was the only independent predictor of post-relapse survival. Our results indicate that p53 LI and MDM2 LI, EGFR expression as well as proliferation markers (PCNA and Ki-67) are useful indicators of overall and disease-free survival in diffuse astrocytoma patients.