The p53 gene is currently considered to function as a tumor-suppressor gene in various human malignancies. In hematologic malignancies, alterations in the p53 gene have been shown in some human leukemias and lymphomas. Although mutations in the p53 gene are infrequent in acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) patients, we show in this report that alterations in the p53 gene are frequent in myeloid leukemia cell lines. We studied alterations of the p53 gene in nine human myeloid leukemia cell lines by reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), single-strand conformation polymorphism (SSCP) analysis, and direct sequencing. Expression of the p53 gene was not detected at all by RT-PCR in two of the nine cell lines. In these two cell lines, Southern blot analysis showed gross rearrangements and deletions in both of the p53 alleles. Six of the nine cell lines were found to express only mutant p53 mRNA by RT-PCR/SSCP analysis and direct sequencing, and wild-type p53 mRNA was not detected. Two of the mutant p53 mRNAs were shown to be products of abnormal splicing events induced by intronic point mutations. Taken together, eight of nine human myeloid leukemia cell lines expressed no or an undetectable amount of wild-type p53 mRNA. Three of the eight cell lines were growth factor-dependent. Our results suggest that inactivation of the p53 gene may be a common feature in myeloid leukemia cell lines and may play an important role in the establishment of these cell lines.