Inactivation of the p53 tumor suppressor gene appears to be an important event in the progression of many types of human neoplasms; however its role in rodent experimental tumorigenesis is controversial. Previous studies have shown that a wide array of chemically induced and spontaneous mouse liver tumors lack p53 mutations within the evolutionarily conserved regions of exons 5-8. However, since p53 inactivation in human neoplasms occurs relatively late in tumor progression, it is possible that the mouse liver tumors evaluated previously were not suitably advanced to incur p53 aberrations. In the present study, we examined an end-stage, highly malignant embryonal mouse liver tumor known as the hepatoblastoma (HB) for p53 mutations utilizing the highly sensitive 'cold' single-strand conformation polymorphism (SSCP) technique. In addition, several of the HBs were examined by direct nucleotide sequencing. No aberrations of the p53 gene were detected within exons 5-8 of any of the 16 HBs examined. These results confirm that the p53 gene plays a minimal role in the development or malignant progression of hepatocellular tumors in mice.