AIM: To examine the prevalence of genital type human papilloma virus (HPV) and mutations at codons 12, 13, and 61 in H, Ki, and N-ras in CIN III and early invasive squamous cell carcinomas of the cervix. METHODS: Prevalence of HPV was examined in 20 CIN III and 20 stage I and II cervical carcinomas, using non-isotopic in situ hybridisation (NISH) and solution phase polymerase chain reaction (PCR). In addition, mutations at codons 12, 13, and 61 were examined in H, Ki, and N-ras in these CIN III and early invasive squamous cell carcinomas, to assess the prevalence of ras gene point mutations and to define where in the pathobiology of squamous cell carcinoma such events occur. A non-isotopic PCR/RFLP assay was used to define these mutations. RESULTS: Of the 20 CIN IIIs examined, 19 contained HPV 16 DNA sequences by PCR and NISH. Dual infection was not uncovered. The 20 early (stage I and II) invasive squamous cell carcinomas showed predominant HPV 16 positivity (17/20), with one case HPV 18 positive, confirmed on PCR and NISH. Activating mutations were not identified in any of the CIN III cases. Only one stage I, HPV 16 positive carcinoma showed an activating mutation in H-ras codon 12, which was not present in adjacent normal ectocervical mucosa from the same patient. CONCLUSIONS: ras Activation does not appear to occur in conjunction with HPV infection, particularly of HPV 16 infected high grade cervical intraepithelial neoplasia, or to occur commonly in early cervical squamous cell carcinoma. The postulated model of HPV linked carcinogenesis suggests malfunctional control of viral transcription as a necessary component of neoplastic progression. It is also clear that host gene alterations are equally necessary for HPV linked carcinogenesis to occur.