The patterns of expression of 3 human DNA-repair genes (ERCC1, ERCC2, ERCC6) were assessed in 52 bone-marrow specimens obtained from cancer patients prepared for autologous bone-marrow transplantation. Marrow was collected prior to the initiation of treatment in patients with sarcoma or testicular cancer; marrow was collected after initial cytoreductive therapy for patients with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease, and other tumors. Slot-blot analysis of marrow RNA showed a bimodal pattern of ERCC1, ERCC2 and ERCC6 gene expression with relative expression values ranging more than 200-fold. This pattern was seen in all patient groups and appeared to be independent of whether or not patients had received prior chemotherapy. In all patient groups, when expression was low for ERCC1, expression was also low for ERCC2 and ERCC6, suggesting that expression of these genes may be coordinated within an individual although they are located on two different chromosomes. Southern blot analyses of Pst I digests of DNA from 6 bone-marrow samples indicate no differences in ERCC1 gene copy number between high expressors and low expressors. There is absence of restriction fragment length polymorphism for ERCC1 suggesting that the different levels of expression in high and low expressors were not due to major deletions or rearrangements of the ERCC1 gene. We conclude that expression of these ERCC genes may vary widely between individuals, and that within an individual, their expression may be linked and coordinated by a common regulatory mechanism.