The point mutations occurring in codons 12 and 13 of Ki-ras in 78 patients with colorectal carcinoma (31 Dukes' A and B, 21 Dukes' C, and 26 Dukes' D) have been determined by allele-specific oligonucleotide hybridization and sequencing. Duplicate samples of invasive primary carcinoma, adjacent normal tissue, and available lymph node and liver metastases from the same patients were microdissected from paraffin sections. There were no differences in the mutation rate between primary carcinomas and secondary deposits: 26 of 78 (33 per cent) primary carcinomas, 10 of 32 (31 per cent) lymph node metastases, and 10 of 26 (38 per cent) liver metastases. Multiple sampling revealed frequent heterogeneity within carcinomas: 9 of 26 primaries with Ki-ras mutations also contained areas of carcinoma with only the wild-type gene, implying that Ki-ras mutation, even when present in a colonic carcinoma, may not have been necessary for establishing the malignant phenotype. Also, 2 of 26 (8 per cent) Dukes' D patients had a mutation in their primary carcinoma but none in liver metastases and 6 of 47 (13 per cent) Dukes' C and D patients had mutations in liver or lymph node metastases but none in the primary carcinoma. Such heterogeneity may modify the effectiveness of novel therapies targeting mutant Ki-ras function, such as farnesyltransferase inhibition. Mutation of codon 12 from GGT (glycine) to GTT (valine) was more prevalent in primary and metastatic deposits of Dukes' C/D carcinomas (P = 0.01) than in primary carcinomas from Dukes' A/B patients. Mutations of codon 12 to GAT, AGT, GCT and codon 13 GGC to GAC were also found, but no correlation with carcinoma aggressiveness was apparent. Follow-up of 71/78 patients (up to 12 years) revealed decreased overall survival (P = 0.001) in patients with the GGT to GTT transversion in codon 12, even when the analysis was restricted to Dukes' D cases, supporting the suggestion that this mutation may confer a more aggressive phenotype in colorectal carcinoma.