In order to know the involvement of multiple gene alterations in the pathogenesis of human lung cancer, we examined the genes of K-, H-ras (codons 12, 13, 61), p53(exons 5-9) and the retinoblastoma susceptibility gene (RB)(exons 20-22) using the polymerase chain reaction/single-strand conformation polymorphism method in 32 human lung cancer cell lines (5 squamous-cell carcinomas, 10 adenocarcinomas, 3 large-cell carcinomas, 14 small-cell carcinomas). In 18 non-small-cell lung cancer lines, gene alterations were found in 4 for K-ras (22%), none for H-ras (0%), 4 for p53 (22%) and none for the RB (0%) gene. In 14 small-cell lung cancer (SCLC) lines, no gene alterations were found in K-ras (0%), or H-ras (0%), but 6 were found for p53 (43%) and 3 for the RB (21%) gene. Coincident abnormalities of K-ras and p53, or K-ras and RB genes were not found in any cell lines, and those of the p53 and RB genes were found in only 2 SCLC lines. No association was observed between these three gene alterations and N-myc amplification. Although the above three genes may be involved to some extent in the pathogenesis of lung cancer, more factors are required for its development.