A high frequency (about 60%) of ret rearrangements in papillary thyroid carcinomas of children exposed to radioactive fallout in Belarus after the Chernobyl accident, has been reported by three recent studies (Fugazzola et al., 1995; Ito et al., 1994; Klugbauer et al., 1995). These studies suggested that the radiation exposure may be a direct inducer of activating rearrangements in the ret gene. In order to confirm the postulated link between irradiation and the role of the ret proto-oncogene in thyroid tumorigenesis, we analysed for the presence of ret activating rearrangements using RT-PCR, XL-PCR, Southern blot and direct sequencing techniques, 39 human thyroid tumors (19 papillary carcinomas and 20 follicular adenomas), from patients who had received external radiation for benign or malignant conditions. As controls, we studied 39 'spontaneous' tumors (20 papillary carcinomas and 19 follicular adenomas). Our data concerning the radiation-associated tumors, showed that: (1) the overall frequency of ret rearrangements was 84% in papillary carcinomas (16/19) and 45% (9/20) in follicular adenomas; (2) in contrast with the results obtained in the Chernobyl tumors, the most frequently observed chimeric gene was RET/PTC1 instead of the RET/PTC3 and (3) all the tumors were negative for RET/PTC2. In the 'spontaneous' tumors, only the papillary carcinomas presented a ret rearrangement (15%:3/20): 1 RET/PTC1, 1 RET/ PTC3 and 1 uncharacterized. In conclusion, our results confirm the crucial role played by the ret proto-oncogene activating rearrangements in the development of radiation-associated thyroid tumors appearing after therapeutic or accidental ionizing irradiation, and show, for the first time, the presence of RET/PTC genes in follicular adenomas appeared after external irradiation.