The chromosomal locus 91p21 contains the p16(INK4a/CDKN2/MTS1) tumor suppressor gene that has been implicated in a variety of tumor types, including carcinomas of the head and neck, esophagus, and pancreas. To determine whether the loss of this gene is involved in salivary gland cancers, 35 carcinomas and paired nonneoplastic specimens were analyzed for loss of heterozygosity (LOH) of polymorphic genetic markers located in the region of interest. Five types of salivary gland tumors were studied: mucoepidermoid carcinoma, salivary duct carcinoma, adenoid cystic carcinoma, acinic cell carcinoma, and polymorphous low-grade adenocarcinoma. Seven of 9 salivary duct carcinomas showed LOH of 1 or more polymorphic markers. In 1 case of salivary duct carcinoma with LOH, we confirmed a deletion of bp 240- 254 within exon 2. In addition, another salivary duct carcinoma showed a homozygous deletion of p16 in differential polymerase chain reaction analysis. Loss of heterozygosity was found in 1 of 10 adenoid cystic carcinomas and 1 of 8 mucoepidermoid carcinomas and was absent in the remaining subtypes. No mutations in exon 1 or exon 2 or homozygous deletion of p16 were found in these 2 particular neoplasms with LOH. These results suggest that inactivation of p16 is important in the development or progression of at least some salivary duct carcinomas, but we found no evidence that its alteration plays a role in the other subtypes examined.