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It was postulated that non-isotopic in situ hybridisation (NISH) signal types 1-3 for human papillomavirus in cervical biopsy specimens represent episomal or integrated virus. The aim of this study was to validate this hypothesis by independent molecular techniques. Fresh cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) and squamous cell cancer (SCC) tissue were examined for NISH signal pattern by hybridising with digoxigenin labelled HPV 16. DNA was extracted from the same samples and analysed by restriction endonuclease digestion and Southern blotting to determine the physical state of the viral genome. Six CIN biopsy specimens showed a type 1 NISH signal for HPV 16. On Southern analysis these biopsy specimens contained only episomal HPV 16. Three SCC with a type 2 NISH signal contained integrated HPV 16 by Southern analysis. Two specimens, a CIN 3 and an SCC with a type 3 NISH signal for HPV 16, showed the presence of both episomal and integrated HPV 16 with conventional Southern analysis and two dimensional gel electrophoresis. These results show that episomal HPV can be reliably determined by NISH type 1 signal, integrated HPV by type 2, and a combination of both episomal and integrated HPV, by a type 3 signal in archival paraffin wax embedded cervical biopsy specimens. This will add another variable to the epidemiological studies of HPV infection. In particular, it will now allow retrospective studies to be done to define the role of episomal and integrated HPV in the evolution of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia and other cervical disease associated with this virus.