Human anterior pituitary adenomas proliferate and express the p53 tumour suppressor gene protein, but it is not known if apoptosis (programmed cell death) occurs. Therefore, the detection of apoptosis was undertaken in tumorous human anterior pituitary tissue and compared with p53 protein expression, tumour type and tumour size. Apoptosis (detected by the in situ end labelling technique) and p53 suppressor gene protein (detected by DO. 1-antibody immunocytochemistry) were determined in formalin-fixed and paraffin-embedded tissue from 37 human pituitary adenomas (2 macroprolactinomas, 9 somatotrophinomas and 26 non-functioning adenomas). Two normal anterior pituitaries were also included in this study. Pre-operative tumour size was scored 1 to 4 from magnetic resonance imaging radiology. Apoptosis was found in 7 of 29 tumours (24%), 11% of somatotrophinomas and 33% of non-functioning adenomas, although this difference was not significant. The p53 tumour suppressor protein was found in 7 of 31 tumours (23%), 33% of somatotrophinomas and 19% of nonfunctioning adenomas. Apoptosis and p53 protein expression were not found in normal anterior pituitary. In conclusion, apoptosis occurs in human anterior pituitary adenomas, but no significant association was found between apoptosis and p53 protein expression, tumour type or tumour size.