The role of human papillomavirus (HPV) detection in the management of patients with persistent low-grade (mild dyskaryosis or less) cervical cytological abnormalities is unclear. We have analysed cytological material from 167 such patients both cytologically and by non-isotopic in situ hybridisation (NISH) for HPV 16, 18, 31 and 33 and consensus primer polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification followed by both generic and specific typing for these HPV types. Cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) 2 or 3 was present in 40 of 167 patients (23.9%), and the positive predictive values (PPVs) for the presence of CIN 2 or 3, of moderate or severe dyskaryosis at repeat cytology and an HPV-positive NISH and generic PCR signal were 100%, 66% and 42% respectively. The corresponding sensitivities were 48%, 68% and 87%. Addition of cytology to molecular analysis improved both PPV and sensitivity, the best combination being NISH and cytopathology (PPV 71%, sensitivity 87%). These data demonstrate that the presence of CIN 2 or 3 in patients with mild cytological abnormalities can be predicted by molecular detection of HPV in some cases, particularly when combined with cytological analysis. However, the magnitude of this prediction is dependent on the population of patients studied, and the clinical role of this approach therefore remains to be defined.