Each entire hypervariable region of the mitochondrial DNA control region was screened for mutations from paired normal and tumor DNA corresponding to a group of 21 patients (13 colorectal and 8 gastric adenocarcinomas) using both heteroduplex analysis and single-strand conformation analysis. These two mutation scanning strategies allowed the identification of sequence alterations in 3/13 (23%) colorectal tumors and in 3/8 (37%) gastric tumors. Heteroduplex analysis showed the heteroplasmic state of the majority of these tumor mutations. Sequence analysis revealed two A:T/G:C transitions (nucleotide positions: 16241 and 16166) in hypervariable region 1 (HV1) and two C:G/T:A transitions (nucleotide positions: 76 and 312), one A:T/G:C transition (nucleotide position: 93), a 1-basepair C:G deletion (nucleotide position: 309), and a 2-base-pair CC:GG insertion (nucleotide position: 309) in the HV 2 region. A considerable proportion of these mutations was found in homopolymeric regions which are highly polymorphic among humans. Different mechanisms (clonal expansion, increased oxidative damage, and nuclear mutator mutations) were suggested to explain the increased mitochondrial DNA mutation rate observed in cancer.