The cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor p16 gene (P16, MTS1, CDKN2) has been shown to be altered by deletion or point mutation in some human tumours and cancer cell lines, suggesting that it works as a tumour suppressor. We analysed p16 gene mutation and p16 protein expression in 42 primary ovarian carcinomas and in five human ovarian cancer cell lines. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplifications of exons 1 and 2 of the gene showed no deletion or gross rearrangement in the p16 gene. The lack of deletion was further demonstrated by Southern blot analysis. Looking for point mutations, we used single-strand confirmation polymorphism (SSCP) analysis and, in half of the tumours, we sequenced both strands of exons 1 and 2. No mutations were detected. In 11 out of 42 patients (26%), however, we detected no protein expression by Western blot analysis, suggesting that decreased expression of p16 rather than deletion of the gene can occur in a significant percentage of human ovarian cancers. In the same experiment CDK4 protein was found homogeneously expressed in all the tumour specimens and in the five cell lines. The lack of expression of p16 was not due to hypermethylation of the gene assessed by digestion of genomic DNAs with a methylation sensitive enzyme, suggesting that other mechanisms, not yet identified, are involved in the decreased expression of the p16 gene in human ovarian tumours.