AIM: To investigate the presence of human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA in adenosquamous carcinoma of the lung--which is relatively common in Okinawa but not in mainland Japan--and examine its histological features. METHODS: Of 207 cases where primary lung cancers were surgically removed between January 1995 and June 1997 in Okinawa, 23 were adenosquamous carcinoma. HPV was detected by non-isotopic in situ hybridisation (NISH) and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification with primers specific for E6 and E7 regions of the HPV genome. PCR products were analysed by Southern blotting. Immunohistochemical determination of high molecular weight cytokeratin (HMC) and involucrin was also carried out. RESULTS: 18 cases were positive for HPV DNA by PCR and NISH. HPV types 6, 11, 16, and 18 were found. Seven cases were dual positive for different types of HPV. Using NISH, HPV was also found in the squamous cell components and in neighbouring enlarged adenocarcinoma cells. The HMC and involucrin were demonstrated immunohistochemically in the same areas. CONCLUSIONS: HPV DNA was found in a high proportion (78.3%) of adenosquamous carcinomas in Okinawa, a region where HPV has previously been shown to be prevalent in squamous cell carcinoma of the lung. The adenocarcinoma cells adjacent to the squamous cell carcinoma component were enlarged and positive for HPV, HMC, and involucrin. This is thought to indicate the transition from adenocarcinoma to squamous cell carcinoma.