We assayed rat colon tumors induced by N-methyl-N-nitrosourea (MNU) for transforming oncogenes by the NIH 3T3 transfection and nude mouse tumorigenicity assays. Transfection of DNA from 3 of 3 adenomas and 3 of 5 carcinomas induced transformed foci on NIH 3T3 cells. DNA from 2 of 3 primary foci also possessed focus-forming activity, and rat-specific sequences were observed in secondary focus DNAs. Furthermore, NIH 3T3 cells transfected with DNA from a carcinoma and from a primary focus derived from it, both positive in the focus-forming assay, induced tumors in nude mice. We found no evidence for rat H-ras, K-ras, or N-ras sequences in the DNA of any of 16 primary foci derived from 6 rat tumors; thus, in contrast to other animal tumor models induced by MNU, activation of the ras genes does not appear to predominantly occur in MNU-induced rat colon tumors. We also did not observe, in any of these foci, sequences corresponding to the rat neu, raf, fms, met, or hst genes, thus indicating that none of these is the transforming oncogene in our model. These results suggest that an as yet unidentified transforming oncogene may be activated in rat colon tumors induced by MNU.