The present study was undertaken to examine the distribution of p53, p21, mdm-2 and bcl-2 protein expression in human colorectal adenocarcinomas in order to obtain combined information about the immunophenotypes characterising these tumours. Formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissue sections from 52 cases of colorectal adenocarcinomas were stained using immunohistochemical methods for the detection of p53, p21/waf1, mdm2 and bcl-2 proteins. P53, p21/waf1, mdm2 and bcl-2 proteins were expressed in 35/52, 45/52, 9/52 and 27/52 cases, respectively. All nine mdm2+ cases expressed p53 and p21 proteins as well. The three patterns observed in p53/p21 expression were: p53+/p21+, p53+/p21- and p53-/p21+ in 28, 7, and 17 cases, respectively. Consequently, p53+/mdm2-/p21+, p53+/mdm-/p21- and p53-/mdm2-/p21+ immunophenotypes were expressed in 19, 7, and 17 cases respectively. Four patterns of p53/bcl2 expression were identified: p53+/bcl2+, 20 cases; p53+/bcl2-, 15 cases; p53-/bcl2+, 7 cases; p53-/bcl2-, 10 cases. It was noteworthy that 9 of the 10 p53-/bcl2-tumours had negative lymph node status. The present results suggest that both p53 dependent and p53-independent induction of p21 expression may be involved in the molecular mechanisms controlling these tumours. High expression of the p53 protein in colorectal carcinomas could be due not only to p53 gene mutations but also to binding to mdm2 protein which leads to p53 protein stabilisation. In addition, tumours with p53-/bcl2- immunophenotype are frequently associated to negative lymph node status and seem to be less aggressive.