DNA from 135 patients with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) at various clinical stages and Philadelphia (Ph1) chromosome positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia was investigated for alterations in a variety of proto-oncogenes which have been implicated in the evolution of CML from its chronic phase to blast crisis. The most common genetic change found in the evolution of typical Ph1 chromosome positive CML to blast crisis was an alteration of the p53 gene involving either a rearrangement, a deletion, or a point mutation in the coding sequence of the gene. Alterations of the p53 gene were found in the myeloid and the rare megakaryocytic variant of blast crisis but were absent in the lymphoid leukemic transformants. Gross structural alterations were seen in 11 of 54 (20%) of myeloid or unknown phenotypes of blast crisis and in only 1 of 44 chronic phase cases. Eight examples of mutations in the open reading frame of the p53 gene at codons 49, 53, 60, 140, 202, 204, 238, and 239 were observed in blast crisis patients. Mutations in the N-RAS gene were rare in typical blast crisis (2 of 27 cases) but were found in megakaryocytic and Ph1 negative myeloid blast crisis. We concluded that heterogeneous alterations in the p53 gene and occasionally in the N-RAS genes accompany the evolution of chronic phase CML to blast crisis.