Using fluorescence in situ hybridisation (FISH) we have analysed the segregational fidelity of all the human chromosomes during mitotic cell division. The losses and gains of chromosomes were analysed in human polyploid cell lines derived from a well-differentiated papillary thyroid cancer. These thyroid cells can be cultured for more than 300 population doublings. For the purpose of our study the polyploid nature of the cells may act as a protective buffer against the cell-lethal effects of the loss of individual chromosomes. To evaluate the role of the p53 gene product in maintaining the fidelity of chromosome segregation we compared the frequencies of chromosome loss and gain in cultures with wild-type p53 activity (K1E7neo3) and cultures transfected with plasmids expressing a mutant p53 product (K1E7scx6). Cultures were analysed for the presence of both structurally normal and rearranged chromosomes at both early and late passages. Cell cultures with defective p53 activity showed progressive chromosome loss from a median chromosome number of 87-97 to 75-86. Cell growth in cultures with wild-type p53 activity showed the loss of chromosomes 6, 7, and 8 and the gain of 17 and 20. Cultures expressing mutant p53 activity showed the loss of chromosomes 2, 5, 14 and 17 and the gain of 4 and 22. The combination of defective p53 and growth resulted in further destabilisation with the additional losses of chromosomes 3, 11, 15, 16 and 21. Chromosomes 1, 9, 10, 12, 13, 18, 19, X and Y segregated stably under all the culture conditions as did the structurally rearranged marker chromosomes. The study has demonstrated variation in the fidelity of mitotic chromosome segregation and the influence of p53 gene activity upon the segregation of individual human chromosomes.