DNA from 161 patients with various forms of hematologic malignancies were investigated for mutations in exons 1 and 2 of the N-RAS, K-RAS and Ha-RAS gene by direct sequencing of DNA amplified in vitro by the polymerase chain reaction. Mutations involving either codons 11, 12, or 13 of the N-RAS gene were identified in 18 of the 161 patients. The relative frequencies of N-RAS gene mutations in these hematologic disorders was as follows: acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), 15%; acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), 14%; myelodysplastic syndromes, 24%; and myeloid and lymphoid blast crisis of chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), 3%. No correlation was observed between the presence of mutations and cytologic features or immunophenotype of these malignancies. Mutations involving codons 12 or 13 were equally prevalent, with a glycine to aspartic acid substitution being the most frequently encountered change. A single T-ALL case had a codon 11 mutation resulting in substitution of alanine with threonine. We failed to find mutations in exons 1 and 2 of the K-RAS or Ha-RAS genes in any case except a single AML with a mutation in codon 61 of the K-RAS gene. Also, no mutations were identified in chronic phase of CML, chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Ph1 positive ALL, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease, or multiple myeloma. These results indicate that RAS mutations, especially those involving exon 1 of the N-RAS gene, are frequent only in a subset of hematologic malignancies.