Several types of human papilloma viruses (HPV) have been associated with benign and malignant squamous cell tumours of mucosal epithelium. To identify HPV in erosive oral lichen planus (OLPe), considered as a premalignant lesion, tissues from 20 patients were examined by Southern blot hybridization with 32P-labeled HPV DNA probes. Type 11 was found in 6 of the lesions while HPV types 6, 16 and 18 were not detected in any of the tissues examined. Using a type-specific polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay for HPV-6, 11, 16 and 18, HPV-11 was detected in 8 of the samples (all of those positive by Southern blot), and, in addition, HPV-6 was found in 5 samples and HPV-16 in 3 samples. Overall, by the more sensitive PCR assay, 65% of samples were positive for HPV DNA. The finding of HPV DNA in many of the samples using two different techniques indicates a high prevalence of HPV in the OLPe afflicted oral mucosa. However, the role of HPV in the pathogenesis of OLPe has yet to be determined.