The RET proto-oncogene encodes a cell membrane tyrosine-kinase receptor protein whose ligands belong to the glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor. RET functions as a multicompetent receptor complex that includes alphaGFRs and RET. Somatic rearrangements of RET designated as RET/PTC (from papillary thyroid carcinoma) were identified in papillary thyroid carcinoma before RET was recognized as the susceptibility gene for MEN2. There are now at least at least 15 types of RET/PTC rearrangements involving RET and 10 different genes. RET/PTC1 and RET/PTC3 are by far the most common rearrangements. All of the rearrangements are due to DNA damage and result in the fusion of the RET tyrosine-kinase (RET-TK) domain to the 5'-terminal region of heterologous genes. RET/PTC rearrangements are very common in radiation-induced tumors but have been detected in variable proportions of sporadic (i.e., non-radiation associated) papillary carcinomas. It is estimated that up to approximately half the papillary thyroid carcinomas in the United States and Canada harbor RET/PTC rearrangements, most commonly RET/PTC-1, followed by RET/PTC-3 and occasionally RET/PTC-2. The cause of these rearrangements in sporadic papillary carcinomas is not known, but the close association between their presence and the papillary carcinoma phenotype indicates that they play a causative role in tumor development. The proposed mechanisms of RET/PTC-induced tumorigenesis and the clinical and pathologic implications of RET/PTC activation are discussed.