Mutations in the RET protooncogene have recently been demonstrated in families with multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN) types 2A and 2B. We have studied pheochromocytomas from 29 individuals who had no clinical evidence of MEN-2A or -2B to determine the frequency of germline and/or somatic mutations in exons 10, 11, and 16 of the RET protooncogene. Of the 29 tumors examined, 3 (10%) were found to have a mutation in 1 of the 3 exons. These mutations were not found in the DNA from the peripheral blood from these individuals, indicating that the mutations in the tumors were somatic in origin. Although we cannot exclude the possibility of mutations in other regions of the RET protooncogene, our data suggest that 1) individuals presenting with apparently sporadic pheochromocytomas are not likely to have undiagnosed MEN-2A or -2B; and 2) somatic mutations in exons 10, 11, and 16 in the RET protooncogene contribute to the process of tumorigenesis in a small percentage of sporadic pheochromocytomas.