Mutations in ras genes have been found to be the most frequent genetic aberrations in adult myeloid leukaemia (AML). Some reports have shown an improved outcome of ras-mutated AML. In order to understand the biology of ras mutation in AML, we studied a cohort of patients treated in a prospective multicentre trial for ras mutational status and resistance gene expression. Blast samples from 162 adult patients with de novo or secondary AML were examined for resistance gene expression (mdr1, mrp1 and lrp) and ras mutations using reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction and protein nucleic acid-competitive polymerase chain reaction strategies respectively. Ras mutations were confirmed using DNA sequencing. Ras mutations leading to an exchange of amino acids were found in 40 (25%) patients. Thirty AML patients had N-ras mutations and nine patients had K-ras mutations. One patient showed both N-ras and K-ras mutations. Resistance gene expression was positive for mdr1 in 30%, for mrp1 in 43% and for lrp in 62% of patients. There was a strong inverse correlation between the presence of ras mutation and mdr1 expression (P = 0·005). However, no significant difference was seen between patients with or without ras mutations and mrp1 or lrp expression. Whereas mdr1 expression was associated with a lower complete remission rate (P < 0·04), ras mutations had no significant influence on remission status. Neither ras mutation nor mdr1 expression had a significant impact on overall or disease-free survival to date. For the first time, there is evidence that activated ras genes are associated with lower mdr1 expression in AML.