Mutation of the p53 gene has been reported in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) occurring worldwide. The most frequent p53 mutation has been found in HCCs in regions with high hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection and intake of aflatoxin B1 (AFB1). The aim of our study was to examine p53 protein expression in HCCs from a high incidence area of Guangxi, Southern China, where HBV infection and dietary intake of AFB1 are high. Immunohistochemical staining of p53 protein was carried out using a polyclonal rabbit antibody (CM-1). Serial sections were also stained for hepatitis B surface antigen and core antigen. p53 Protein expression was detected in 13 (43.3%) of the 30 HCCs. Expression of p53 was found in 25.0% (1/4) of the < or = 5.0 cm diameter HCCs, in 36.8% (7/19) of the 5.1-10.0 cm diameter HCCs and in 71.4% (5/7) of the >10.0 cm diameter HCCs. Expression of p53 was observed more in moderately and poorly differentiated than in the well differentiated HCCs and more frequently seen in HCCs from younger patients. These data indicate that there is a close association between p53 protein expression and tumor size, histological grade and age of patients. Twenty-seven out of 30 cases (90.0%) were positive for HBV. No significant association between p53 expression and sex. HBV infection, cirrhosis or alpha-fetoprotein has been found.