The receptor tyrosine kinase Flt3 is expressed on leukaemic blasts of most cases with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). In order to evaluate the presence and significance of constitutive activation of Flt3 for leukaemogenesis, we (1) analysed the expression and activation status of the receptor in AML blasts; and (2) evaluated the functional consequences of constitutively active Flt3 in a myeloid progenitor cell line. Immunoprecipitation studies revealed Flt3 expression in a high proportion of AML cases (27/32) with ligand-dependent Flt3 autophosphorylation in 18, constitutive autophosphorylation in three and no autophosphorylation in six cases. Only one out of three samples with constitutively active Flt3 but 3/18 samples with ligand-dependent autophosphorylated Flt3 contained the recently described internal tandem repeat (ITR) mutations. To test the significance of Flt3 activation in myeloid cell function, we also characterized the biochemical and biological effects of the activating mutation D838V of Flt3 (FLt3D838V) on the factor-dependent myeloid progenitor cell line 32Dcl3: cells transfected with wild-type Flt3 (32D/Flt3) grew FLt3 ligand (FL) dependent, and the receptor was ligand dependently autophosphorylated. In contrast, the receptor was constitutively autophosphorylated in 32D/Flt3D838V cells, which grew independently of FL. We conclude that, in some AML samples, Flt3 is constitutively activated and that this does not correlate with ITR mutations in the juxtamembrane domain. Furthermore, constitutively active Flt3 confers factor independence to the myeloid progenitor cell line 32D. It remains to be determined whether activation of Flt3 is leukaemogenic in vivo and whether strategies aimed at inhibition of Flt3 activation could inhibit leukaemogenesis.