Altered expression of proteins in the dystrophin-associated glycoprotein complex results in muscular dystrophy and has more recently been implicated in a number of forms of cancer. Here we show that loss of either of two members of this complex, dystrophin in mdx mice or alpha sarcoglycan in Sgca(-/-) mice, results in the spontaneous development of muscle-derived embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) after 1 year of age. Many mdx and Sgca(-/-) tumors showed increased expression of insulin-like growth factor 2, retinoblastoma protein, and phosphorylated Akt and decreased expression of phosphatase and tensin homolog gene, much as is found in a human RMS. Further, all mdx and Sgca(-/-) RMS analyzed had increased expression of p53 and murine double minute (mdm)2 protein and contained missense p53 mutations previously identified in human cancers. The mdx RMS also contained missense mutations in Mdm2 or alternatively spliced Mdm2 transcripts that lacked an exon encoding a portion of the p53-binding domain. No Pax3:Fkhr or Pax7:Fkhr translocation mRNA products were evident in any tumor. Expression of natively glycosylated alpha dystroglycan and alpha sarcoglycan was reduced in mdx RMS, whereas dystrophin expression was absent in almost all human RMS, both for embryonal and alveolar RMS subtypes. These studies show that absence of members of the dystrophin-associated glycoprotein complex constitutes a permissive environment for spontaneous development of embryonal RMS associated with mutation of p53 and mutation or altered splicing of Mdm2.