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In order to evaluate the incidence and prognostic significance of gene amplification in primary brain neoplasms we measured the number of gene copies per cell of three oncogenes (epidermal growth factor receptor [EGFR] gene, N-myc, C-myc) and syntenic control genes in 40 specimens using quantitative DNA dot blots. We observed EGFR gene amplification in astrocytomas and anaplastic astrocytomas with approximately the same incidence as in glioblastoma multiforme (33%), although large amplifications were only seen in glioblastoma multiforme. Fourteen patients had a supratentorial glioblastoma multiforme; six had EGFR gene amplification and eight had either normal EGFR gene copy number or elevated EGFR copy number attributable to extra copies of chromosome 7. Patients with gene amplification had shorter survival than patients without gene amplification (p = 0.01). The observed difference in survival was not likely to be due to group differences in age, sex, treatment, or histopathology.