In vitro DNA amplification and synthetic oligonucleotide hybridization was used to analyze 57 acute myelocytic leukemias (AML) for the presence of ras gene mutations. We demonstrated mutated alleles in 19% of primary AMLs (10/51) as well as in five of six secondary leukemias. Mutations occurred predominantly at N-ras codons 12, 13, or 61 (13 cases) and twice at Ki-ras codons 12 and 13. Ras gene mutations were preferentially associated with an M4 morphology according to the FAB (French-American-British) classification, but no particular correlation was observed with respect to clinical parameter (sex, age, course of disease) or immunophenotype and karyotype. Mutated ras alleles were absent in nine mutation-positive cases analyzed during remission. However, a more complex pattern emerged from the five patients analyzed in relapse exhibiting identical ras mutations in three cases, absence of a mutated allele in one patient, and acquisition of a N-ras mutation in yet another case, in which no mutation had been detected initially. Moreover, restriction fragment length polymorphisms (RFLP) of the X-chromosome genes hypoxanthine phosphoribosyl transferase (HPRT) and phosphoglycerate kinase (PGK) were studied in 19 of the AML patients. Nine cases (47%) were heterozygous for BglI or BamHI RFLPs at the PGK or HPRT loci, respectively, and therefore suitable for clonal analysis investigating X-chromosome inactivation. All of the patients exhibited a monoclonal leukemic cell population at presentation. In addition, five of seven cases studied in remission showed reemergence of a polyclonal pattern. However, two children exhibited persistence of monoclonal hematopoiesis despite complete clinical/hematological remission and a corresponding loss of a mutated ras allele in one of the patients. These data indicate the value of molecular genetic approaches for evaluation of the heterogeneous nature of remission and relapse in AML.