Intermittent or recreational exposure to sunlight is thought to contribute to development of human cutaneous melanoma. We investigated the incidence of ras oncogene mutation in human cutaneous melanoma in connection to sun-exposed body sites in the patient, using a large series of DNA samples derived from paraffin-embedded material as well as from fresh tumor samples and cell lines. We first show that, of the ras family, predominantly N-ras is activated (15%), whereas rarely H-ras or K-ras are mutated. The occurrence of N-ras mutations correlates with continuous exposure to sunlight of the primary tumor site. Of all tumors initiated on chronically sun-exposed body sites, 26% contained mutated N-ras, in contrast to 0% of sun-protected melanomas. Melanoma lesions obtained from patients from North or Central Europe contained fewer N-ras mutations (12%) as compared with patients from Australia (24%). Mutations were specifically associated with nodular melanoma and to a lesser extent with lentigo malignant melanoma. N-ras mutations did not correlate with metastasis or survival parameters. This study identifies a subset of cutaneous melanomas that contain in the primary lesion ultraviolet-induced N-ras mutations, which are maintained through further progression.