The Ewing family of tumours (ET) is characterised at the cytogenetic level by unique chromosome 22 rearrangements. The breakpoints have been cloned and were shown to fuse the EWS gene on chromosome 22 to one of two closely related ETS proto-oncogenes, FLI-I or ERG, which reside on chromosomes II and 21, respectively. The rearrangement results in the expression of chimaeric transcripts, which can be identified by means of reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). We applied this method for the monitoring of ET cells circulating in the peripheral blood or infiltrating the bone marrow. The presence of tumour cells could be detected with a sensitivity of I in I x 10(6) nucleated cells. When samples were kept at 4 degrees C, tumour cells could still be identified after 48 hr of storage. Positive RT-PCR signals originated from intact ET cells rather than from free RNA released by ruptured tumour cells. We analysed peripheral blood, bone marrow samples and peripheral blood stem cell collections from 16 ET patients. At diagnosis, bone marrow specimens collected from 6 patients and I peripheral blood specimen tested positive for EWS chimaeric RNA. During therapy tumour cells were detected in bone marrow aspirations obtained from 2 patients. Our results show that ET cells infiltrating the bone marrow or circulating in peripheral blood can be identified by RT-PCR. The clinical implications for the presence of ET cells in samples detected by RT-PCR at diagnosis and during therapy requires further evaluation.