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Ras proto-oncogene mutations have been implicated in the pathogenesis of many malignancies, including leukemia. While both human and animal studies have linked several chemical carcinogens to specific ras mutations, little data exist regarding the association of ras mutations with parental exposures and risk of childhood leukemia. Using data from a large case-control study of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL; age <15 years) conducted by the Children's Cancer Group, we used a case-case comparison approach to examine whether reported parental exposure to hydrocarbons at work or use of specific medications are related to ras gene mutations in the leukemia cells of children with ALL. DNA was extracted from archived bone marrow slides or cryopreserved marrow samples for 837 ALL cases. We examined mutations in K-ras and N-ras genes at codons 12, 13, and 61 by PCR and allele-specific oligonucleotide hybridization and confirmed them by DNA sequencing. We interviewed mothers and, if available, fathers by telephone to collect exposure information. Odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were derived from logistic regression to examine the association of parental exposures with ras mutations. A total of 127 (15.2%) cases had ras mutations (K-ras 4.7% and N-ras 10.68%). Both maternal (OR 3.2, 95% CI 1.7-6.1) and paternal (OR 2.0, 95% CI 1.1-3.7) reported use of mind-altering drugs were associated with N-ras mutations. Paternal use of amphetamines or diet pills was associated with N-ras mutations (OR 4.1, 95% CI 1.1-15.0); no association was observed with maternal use. Maternal exposure to solvents (OR 3.1, 95% CI 1.0-9.7) and plastic materials (OR 6.9, 95% CI 1.2-39.7) during pregnancy and plastic materials after pregnancy (OR 8.3, 95% CI 1.4-48.8) were related to K-ras mutation. Maternal ever exposure to oil and coal products before case diagnosis (OR 2.3, 95% CI 1.1-4.8) and during the postnatal period (OR 2.2, 95% CI 1.0-5.5) and paternal exposure to plastic materials before index pregnancy (OR 2.4, 95% CI 1.1-5.1) and other hydrocarbons during the postnatal period (OR 1.8, 95% CI 1.0-1.3) were associated with N-ras mutations. This study suggests that parental exposure to specific chemicals may be associated with distinct ras mutations in children who develop ALL.