Despite a considerable amount of information concerning chromosomal and molecular abnormalities found in gliomas in adults, relatively little is known regarding these abnormalities in pediatric brain tumors. We have analyzed DNA from 37 primary brain tumors and 4 tumor-derived cell lines for oncogene amplification. Probes utilized represent 11 known oncogenes (erbB1, gli, neu, myc, L-myc, N-myc, H-ras, K-ras, N-ras, sis, and src). Of 20 primary medulloblastomas studied, only one tumor was found to have erbB1 amplification. In contrast, of the 4 medulloblastoma cell lines studied, 1 had c-myc amplification, 1 had erbB1 amplification, and 1 had amplification of N-myc. Twelve glial brain tumors were analyzed, and only 1 case with amplification of the erbB1 oncogene was found. Other tumors studied include 1 meningioma, 2 ependymomas, 1 anaplastic ependymoma, and 1 cerebral primitive neuroectodermal tumor, none of which had oncogene amplification. These results suggest that oncogene amplification is relatively uncommon in primary medulloblastomas, but the frequency and diversity of oncogene amplification is greater in tumors that can be established as cell lines. The lower frequency of erbB1 amplification in glial brain tumors in children compared to adults is consistent with the generally lower grade of glial tumor histology seen in pediatric patients. However, the case with amplification of the erbB1 oncogene represented 1 of 2 cases of glioblastoma multiforme we studied, which suggests that pediatric glioblastoma multiforme may have a similar frequency of erbB1 oncogene amplification to glioblastomas seen in adults. Our results suggest that oncogene amplification is a relatively uncommon mechanism of oncogene activation in pediatric brain tumors, and they provide molecular evidence for heterogeneity in tumors classified as medulloblastomas.