Gene amplifications of c-myc, K-sam, and c-met were examined in cancer nuclei isolated from 154 primary gastric adenocarcinomas by fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) using cosmid probes for 8q24 (c-myc locus) and 7q31 (c-met), as well as a DNA probe for K-sam synthesized by PCR. The results were compared with those of Southern blot analysis. Dual-color FISH using gene locus and chromosome-specific probes detected gene amplifications of c-myc in 24 tumors (15.5%), c-met in 6 tumors (3.9%), and K-sam in 3 tumors (2.9%). The six tumors with c-myc amplification had also been found to have amplified c-erbB-2 in our previous study, and coamplification of c-myc and c-met was found in two other tumors. This technique also differentiated the amplified genes on the homogeneous staining region (HSR) and on double minute chromosomes (DMs) in metaphase spreads and interphase nuclei of cell lines established from poorly differentiated adenocarcinomas, KATO III, SNU 16, and HSC 39. Examination of FISH images of these cell lines suggested that the high-level amplifications of c-myc found in primary tumors occurred mainly on DM in four tumors and on HSR in one, and those of K-sam occured on DM in two tumors and on HSR in one. No high-level amplification of c-met was found. These high-level amplifications were also detected in formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissues from primary gastric tumors and metastatic lymph nodes, in some of which heterogeneity of gene amplification was demonstrated within the same tumor. We conclude that FISH is an important tool for examining the proto-oncogene aberrations in intact cells in solid tumors.