The ret oncogene frequently has been found activated in papillary thyroid carcinomas. A previous characterization of ret activation revealed recombination of its tyrosine kinase domain and sequences derived from an uncharacterized locus (D10S170). The mechanism leading to this recombination was identified as a paracentric inversion of the long arm of chromosome 10, inv(10)(q11.2q21), with the breakpoints occurring where ret and D10S170 were mapped. To further characterize the activation of ret in papillary thyroid carcinomas, we have now isolated and sequenced a second type of ret oncogenic rearrangement not involving the D10S170 locus. The nucleotide sequence indicated that the transforming activity was created by the fusion of the ret tyrosine kinase domain with part of the RI alpha regulatory subunit of protein kinase A (PKA). This is the first example of an oncogenic activity involving a PKA gene. PKA is the main intracellular cyclic AMP receptor, and its RI alpha subunit gene is located on chromosome 17q. RI alpha-ret transcripts encode two isoforms of the chimeric protein (p76 and p81), which display constitutive tyrosine phosphorylation as well as a tyrosine kinase enzymatic activity. Under nonreducing conditions, both isoforms are found in a dimeric configuration because of both homo- and heterodimer formation. Thus, the in vivo activation of ret in human papillary thyroid carcinomas is provided by the fusion of its tyrosine kinase domain with different genes and can be mediated by different mechanisms of gene rearrangement.