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The p53 gene, located on chromosome 17p13.1, may be important in the pathogenesis of human neuroepithelial tumors, because it is a tumor suppressor gene and genetic alteration is essential for certain human cells to acquire the neoplastic phenotype. The structure and expression of the p53 gene were investigated in cultured human glioma cells and biopsied specimens of neuroepithelial tumors. Immunocytochemical examination of p53 gene expression revealed positive nuclear staining in six of seven glioma cell lines tested. Sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoretic analysis demonstrated unequivocal heterogeneity of migration rate in p53 bands. Pulse-chase analysis clearly showed an increased half-life of p53 in cultured human glioma cells. These abnormalities are presumably due to genetic alterations in the p53 gene. Nucleotide substitutions in exon 5, 7, or 8 of the p53 gene could be detected by polymerase chain reaction-single strand conformational polymorphic analysis in four of seven (57%) human glioma cell lines, and nine of 29 (31%) biopsied specimens of neuroepithelial tumors examined. The present results indicate that genetic alterations in the p53 gene are responsible for the tumorigenesis of at least some human neuroepithelial tumors.