Abnormalities of the p53 tumor suppressor gene were investigated in 22 foci from 14 adenoid cystic carcinomas (ACC) by polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based assays for dinucleotide (CA)n and pentanucleotide (AAAAT)n repeat polymorphisms and by immunohistochemical staining for oncoprotein expression. Adenoid cystic carcinomas were divided into lower grade (tubular and cribriform) subtypes and higher grade (trabecular and solid) subtypes. Histologically identified tumor cells were precisely microdissected from archival microslides and were used for molecular analysis. The overall frequency of p53 gene mutations detected by PCR-loss-of-heterozygosity (LOH) analysis was 57% and was higher than the frequency of over-expression of p53 oncoprotein detected by immunostaining (43%). In the molecular analysis of individual histological subtype foci, the number of foci with p53 gene mutation was significantly greater in the higher grade subtype foci than in the lower grade subtype foci and was greatest in solid-type foci (100%). In all six tumors in which histologically different foci were present in the same tumors, mutations of the p53 gene were detected. When tumor heterogeneity of the p53 gene was present among different histological foci in the same tumors, the mutations were always detected in the higher grade foci. When lower and higher grade foci were present in the same tumors, the identical mutations detected in the lower grade foci were present in the corresponding higher grade foci. These findings indicate that abnormalities of the p53 gene are involved in carcinogenesis and/or progression of this tumor and, furthermore, suggest that molecular analyses of ACC may provide information of prognostic importance.