Loss or down-regulation of human leukocyte antigen (HLA) class I expression has been demonstrated in a variety of solid tumors. To date, such altered HLA expression has not been studied extensively in freshly isolated leukemic blasts. If it occurs, leukemic cells could escape T-cell surveillance as a consequence. Genotypes of nine leukemic cell lines were determined using a polymerase chain reaction for HLA classes I and II. Cells were also examined for HLA beta2-microglobulin, and allele-specific HLA protein expression using flow cytometry. Next, 44 samples of freshly isolated leukemic blasts from 43 patients with malignant hematological diseases were examined for allele-specific HLA expression using flow cytometry. Microsatellite analysis was performed to determine heterozygosity in the HLA region on chromosome 6. Genotype analysis for HLA class I together with microsatellite analysis demonstrated loss of HLA haplotype in HL-60 cells. No loss of HLA haplotype was observed in 44 samples of freshly isolated leukemic blasts. As reported previously, flow cytometric analysis rarely demonstrated loss or down-regulation of HLA expression at initial diagnosis (3/39; 7.7%); however, this was evident in two of five cases in relapse (40.0%), which contrasts with previous reports. In one patient with acute leukemia, HLA-A2 cell surface expression was present at initial diagnosis, lost at relapse, and completely restored after 48 h of culture in the presence of interferon-gamma. These results suggest loss of allele-specific HLA expression may be involved in the pathogenesis of relapse in patients with leukemia. The findings should be valuable in designing new strategies for clinical immunotherapy.