Mutations in the ras gene are key events in the process of carcinogenesis; in particular, point mutations in codon 61 of exon 2 of the N-ras gene occur frequently in malignant melanoma (MM). We searched for point mutations in the N-ras gene in a large series of primary and metastatic MM from 81 different retrospectively selected patients using the very sensitive denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis technique, followed by sequencing. The classical codon 12 and codon 61 mutations were found in 21 and 17% of the cases, respectively. No codon 13 mutation was found. A novel mutation at codon 18 of exon 1, consisting of a substitution of alanine (GCA) by threonine (ACA), was found in 15% of the primary MMs but in none of the metastatic MMs. All of the other cases were free of mutations. Using microdissected cells from distinctive MM growth phases as source of DNA for mutation analysis, this particular N-ras exon 1 mutation at codon 18 was already present in the radial growth phase and preserved throughout the successive growth phases; it was also found in a dysplastic nevi in continuity with a MM, indicating a clonal relationship between both lesions. Our findings also illustrate the clonal relationship between the distinctive growth phases in MM and suggest the codon 18 mutation to occur early in MM development. The MM in patients with this mutation were significantly thinner than those without a codon 18 mutation (P = 0.0257). Statistical analysis, comparing the group of codon 18 patients with the group of patients with the classical mutations and without mutations, revealed a highly significant difference in overall outcome. The cumulative probability of developing metastasis was significantly lower for the group patients with a codon 18 mutation (P = 0.0130). We can thus conclude that this codon 18 mutation identifies a group of patients with better prognosis than patients with melanoma that harbor wild-type sequence or classical activating point mutations in codon 12 or 61. Preliminary nucleotide binding measurements could not detect a difference between wild-type Ras protein and the mutant Ras(A18T) protein. However, for a precise elucidation of the role of the N-Ras(A18T) mutant in melanoma, additional studies aimed to measure the affinity to guanine nucleotide exchange factors and GTPase-activating proteins are needed.