The tumor antigen p53 is overproduced in transformed cells of various species, including man. HL-60 is an exceptional human tumor cell line that does not express this protein. Hybridization of polyadenylylated mRNA of these cells with a human p53 cDNA probe (p53-H14), which we cloned, had indicated a total absence of the mature-size (3.0 kilobases) or any aberrant p53 mRNA species. Analysis of the genomic HL-60 DNA indicated that the p53 gene in these cells was significantly altered. Most of the gene was deleted, and the residual p53 sequences of these cells, which show weak homology, mapped to the corresponding 5' region of the p53 gene. In agreement with previously documented results, we found that HL-60 cells have an amplified c-myc gene. We suggest that the deficiency of the p53 protein in HL-60 cells could have been overcome by using an alternative metabolic pathway. The c-myc product is a candidate for such an alternative protein.