v-cbl is the transforming gene of a murine retrovirus which induces pre-B cell lymphomas and myelogenous leukaemias. It encodes 40 kDa of a gag fusion protein which is localized in the cytoplasm and nucleus of infected cells. The c-cbl oncogene encodes a 120 kDa cytoplasmic protein and its overexpression is not associated with tumorigenesis. The c-cbl sequence has shown that v-cbl was generated by a truncation that removed 60% of the C-terminus. In this study, we carried out experiments to identify the position within cbl where the transition occurs between non-tumorigenic and tumorigenic forms. These experiments focused attention on a region of 17 amino acids which is deleted from cbl in the 70Z/3 pre-B lymphoma due to a splice acceptor site mutation. This mutation activates cbl's tumorigenic potential and induces its tyrosine phosphorylation. We also show that the expression of the v-abl and bcr-abl oncogenes results in the induction of cbl tyrosine phosphorylation, and that abl and cbl associate in vivo. These findings demonstrate that tyrosine-phosphorylated cbl promotes tumorigenesis and that cbl is a downstream target of the bcr-abl and v-abl kinases.