In contrast to the origins of colorectal carcinomas, the mechanisms of carcinogenesis in the small intestine remain unclear. We therefore analyzed the mutational status of the Ki-ras, p53, and adenomatous polyposis coli (APC) genes in primary carcinomas of the small intestine and compared the mutation patterns with those established for colorectal cancers. DNA was extracted from 15 formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded lesions. Codons 12, 13 and 61 of the Ki-ras gene, exons 5-8 of the p53 gene, and codons 1268-1569, which contain the mutation cluster region (MCR) of the APC gene, were amplified by means of PCR, subcloned and sequenced. Mutations of the Ki-ras and p53 genes were observed in 8 (53.3%) and 4 lesions (26.7%), respectively. The mutational frequency of the Ki-ras gene in the present series of small intestinal carcinomas was similar, while that of the p53 gene was slightly lower than the reported frequencies for colorectal carcinomas. Only one case showed a mutation of the APC gene, involving an insertional mutation of an adenine at codons 1554-1556 with formation of a stop codon immediately downstream. Since the occurrence of an APC mutation is considered an early event in colorectal carcinogenesis, our findings indicating an extremely low frequency of such changes in and around the MCR suggest that carcinomas of the small intestine arise via a genetic pathway distinct from that involved in the development of carcinomas of the colorectum.