The cellular abl proto-oncogene encodes a protein-tyrosine kinase and is expressed in many cell types in two or three mRNA size species. Four types of mouse c-abl cDNAs have been cloned from 70Z/3 lymphoid cells that have different 5' sequences encoding predicted N-terminal regions of 20-45 amino acids. One of the four cDNAs has a predicted N-terminal sequence of met-gly-gln in common with the gag N terminus of v-abl. The 5' heterogeneity appears to be generated by alternative addition of 5' exons onto a common set of 3' exons. Alternative splicing occurs at the same site at which bcr sequences join to abl sequences in the Philadelphia chromosome translocation.