Four human chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) cell lines, BV173, K562, KCL-22, and KYO-1, were studied for inactivation of human tumor suppressor gene p53. Southern blotting showed allele deletion in KCL-22 and cytogenetic studies showed a chromosome 17 deletion in KYO-1 but no gross structural abnormalities in the other two lines. Northern blotting showed increased amounts of normal size p53 mRNA in BV-173 and KYO-1, trace amounts in KCL-22, and none in K562. Direct sequencing of p53 cDNA revealed a missense point mutation in KYO-1 and a single base pair deletion consistent with a coding frame shift in KCL-22. Both abnormalities in these myeloid cell lines were located in the highly conserved region of p53. Studies with two monoclonal antibodies showed that the three cell lines with p53 mRNA had readily detectable p53 proteins. In KYO-1 and BV173 cells the p53 protein was located mainly in the nuclei but KCL-22 cells had weak staining in the cytoplasm. Our data support the assumption that inactivation of p53 tumor suppressor function in myeloid blast transformation of CML may result from point mutations or deletions that produce mutant proteins.