We had previously detected a transforming oncogene, designated PTC, in 25% of 20 papillary thyroid carcinomas. In order to characterize further the transforming activity of this tumour histotype, a new panel of tumour specimens from 16 patients was analysed by using a modified calcium phosphate-DNA coprecipitation transfection protocol. Tumour DNA from 10 patients (62%) displayed a transforming activity due to activation of three different oncogenes identified in four cases as PTC, in four cases as TRK, and in two cases as N-RAS. The same structural alterations of PTC and TRK (gene rearrangements) as well as of N-RAS (point mutation) detected in the NIH3T3 transformants, were also found in the original tumour DNAs, thus indicating that their activation was not due to transfection procedures. Since both PTC, a novel rearranged form of RET, and TRK display a tyrosine protein kinase activity, it is proposed that the activation of this class of oncogenes is specifically involved in the pathogenesis of papillary thyroid cancer.