We performed a longitudinal analysis of point mutations of the N-ras proto-oncogene in patients with myelodysplasia and a follow-up of at least 2.5 years after diagnosis. Point mutations at codons 12, 13, and 61 of the N-ras oncogene were analyzed after in vitro amplification of N-ras specific sequences followed by dot-blot hybridization. Lysed cells scraped from archived blood and bone marrow smears were used as template for a polymerase chain reaction. In 3 of 90 patients tested (3.3%), a mutation in codon 12 could be detected in the most recent blood smears. All available blood and bone marrow samples of these patients were subsequently analyzed for the occurrence of that particular mutation. In all three cases the mutation was not detectable at diagnosis, but was acquired later during the course of the disease. In two of these patients this event was associated with rapid deterioration and transformation to acute leukemia. However, the third patient showed a protracted course during a period of 5 years after acquisition of the mutation. These results indicate that activation of the N-ras protooncogene in these three patients represents a secondary phenomenon associated with disease progression in some cases, but compatible with stable disease in others.