We and others have shown that Mcl-1 was essential for the survival of human myeloma cells in vitro. Furthermore, this antiapoptotic protein is upregulated by interleukin-6, which plays a critical role in multiple myeloma (MM). For these reasons, we have evaluated the expression of Mcl-1 in vivo in normal, reactive and malignant plasma cells (PC), that is, myeloma cells from 51 patients with MM and 21 human myeloma cell lines (HMCL) using flow cytometry. We show that Mcl-1 is overexpressed in MM in comparison with normal bone marrow PC. In total, 52% of patients with MM at diagnosis (P=0.017) and 81% at relapse (P=0.014 for comparison with diagnosis) overexpress Mcl-1. Of note, only HMCL but not reactive plasmacytoses have abnormal Mcl-1 expression, although both PC expansions share similar high proliferation rates. Of interest, Bcl-2 as opposed to Mcl-1, does not discriminate malignant from normal PC. Finally, the level of Mcl-1 expression is related to disease severity, the highest values at diagnosis being associated with the shortest event-free survival (P=0.002). In conclusion, Mcl-1, which has been shown to be essential for the survival of human myeloma cells in vitro, is overexpressed in vivo in MM in relation with relapse and shorter survival. Mcl-1 represents a potential therapeutical target in MM.