Previous karyotyping showed a combined trisomy of chromosome 7 and 17 in sporadic and hereditary papillary renal cell tumours (RCT). A recent molecular analysis revealed a mutation in the MET tyrosine kinase (chromosome 7q31) in the germline of four out of seven families with hereditary papillary RCT (HPRCT). We have analysed germline cells as well as multiple tumours obtained from HPRCT families and sporadic cases for alteration of the MET tyrosine kinase and for allelic duplication at chromosome 7 and 17. We have detected a germ line mutation in the MET tyrosine kinase in one of the two families with HPRCTs and also found the same mutation in the germ line of one patient with clinically recognized multiple, bilateral papillary RCTs but without family history. The mutant MET allele is consequently duplicated and overexpressed in tumour cells indicating that duplication of the mutant MET allele is necessary before cells enter the tumorigenic pathway. The lack of germline mutation in two members of another HPRT family and duplication of the same parental allele of chromosome 7 in multiple tumours suggests that a germ line event other than mutation of MET tyrosine kinase is involved in the development of these tumours. Duplication of different alleles of chromosome 7 in sporadic and of chromosome 17 in both types of tumours excludes a germline mutation at these chromosomal sites.