The authors assayed oncogene alterations in rat colon tumors induced by the direct-acting chemical carcinogen, N-methyl-N-nitrosourea (MNU). DNA isolated from 34 adenomas and eight carcinomas, as well as adjacent normal colon, of 11 rats was assayed by Southern blotting for restriction fragment length polymorphisms and gene amplifications and deletions in 13 oncogenes known to be involved in human or other animal tumors. In addition to finding apparent point mutations or other small alterations in the fos and abl genes in individual rat colon tumors, the authors observed what appear to be larger alterations (ie, rearrangements, or intragenic insertions or deletions) in the H-ras and myb loci in several tumors. In contrast, no changes in the K-ras, N-ras, myc, N-myc, neu, raf, fms, met, and hst genes were seen in any of these tumors. The frequency of myb gene alterations was higher in carcinomas than in adenomas, suggesting that these changes occurred relatively late during tumorigenesis and were not direct effects of the carcinogen. In addition, the finding of alterations in two or three oncogenes in several MNU-induced rat colon tumors suggests the possibility of more widespread genomic lesions in this model.