Naevi are nearly universal in humans, yet their cellular origin remains obscure. Understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in naevus development may be important in understanding the pathogenesis of malignant melanoma. This study aimed to discover whether human acquired naevi are premalignant by examining whether they are clonal. To determine clonality naevi were removed and separated into epithelial and naevus cell fractions and the DNA prepared and digested by a methylase-sensitive restriction enzyme. The highly polymorphic X-linked human androgen receptor (HUMARA) gene was then amplified by a polymerase chain reaction and examined by gel electrophoresis and autoradiography. In polyclonal cell populations both alleles are usually seen as two distinct bands, whilst clonal populations yield a single band. Using these techniques 35 junctional naevi, 11 compound naevi and one congenital naevus from 40 women were examined. Of these, 81% (37 out of 47) of the naevi were clonal, while all of the epithelial cell controls were polyclonal. These data are novel and have great importance for understanding the development of human acquired naevi and cutaneous malignant melanoma. Because monoclonality is a marker of neoplasia, or preneoplasia, our data support the hypothesis that common acquired naevi should be considered to be premalignant lesions, similar to colonic polyps. Such lesions may have undergone the first molecular step(s) in the development of cutaneous malignant melanoma. Understanding the events involved may lead to new methods of prevention and treatment.