We investigated N-ras activation in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (dALL) by the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and the oligonucleotide hybridization method. The frequency of point-mutation of the N-ras gene was not high (2 of 15), and one positive case who relapsed was analyzed in detail. Although N-ras gene activation was detected at both onset and relapse, the mutation sites were different. At onset, Gly (GGT) was changed to Ser (AGT) at codon 12, and at relapse, Gly (GGT) to Asp (GAT) was observed at the same codon. In addition, the DNA at relapse showed a remarkably higher transforming activity than the DNA at onset on two independent recipient cell lines. The identical cell surface phenotype and the same rearrangement patterns of both the immunoglobulin (Ig) heavy chain and T-cell receptor (TCR) gamma chain genes indicated that the leukemic cells at onset and those at relapse were derived from the same precursor cell. Therefore, this case supports the concept that ras activation is not the event initiating leukemogenesis, but may be involved in leukemic progression.