Although p53 overexpression detected by immunohistochemistry has been reported in pituitary adenomas and carcinomas, genetic mutations in the p53 gene have not been previously detected in these tumors. We analyzed a series of eight pituitary adenomas and six pituitary carcinomas by immunohistochemistry, polymerase chain reaction amplification, and sequencing of p53 exon 5 through exon 8 for genetic mutations. Three carcinomas showed more than 20% expression of p53 protein in the tumor cells. One of these tumors with 60% overexpression of p53 protein had a mutation in codon 248, a common "hot spot" for p53 mutation, while the other carcinoma with 90% overexpression of p53 protein had a mutation in codon 135. All adenomas were negative for p53 mutations and had 15% of the cells expressing the p53 protein. Analysis of control tumors including four lung carcinomas with proven p53 mutations also had greater than 85% of the tumor cells overexpressing p53 protein. Two breast carcinoma cell lines with known p53 mutations, MBA-MD 231 and MBA-MD-486, also showed greater than 85% of the tumor cells overexpressing p53. These results show that p53 mutations are present in a subset of pituitary carcinomas and are usually associated with a high percentage of tumor cells overexpressing the p53 protein.