The G1 cyclin D1 is amplified in approximately 20% of human breast cancers and is frequently overexpressed as part of an amplicon in these tumors, suggesting a potential role for this gene in the pathogenesis of breast cancer. Although amplification of cyclin D1 occurs in human breast cancer, it is possible that another gene in the amplicon is the relevant oncogene in these cancers. We now report a truncation of the cyclin D1 gene in a human breast cancer cell line, associated with overexpression of a short cyclin D1 mRNA. In a survey of breast cancer cell lines and tumors by Southern blot hybridization, using a 1.2 kb human cyclin D1 cDNA, we observed that genomic DNA derived from the MDA MB-453 cell line contains an extra band in the Bg1II and BamHI digests, suggesting that one allele of gene is altered. Moreover, the altered allele is amplified three-fold relative to the normal allele, and contains a 3' deletion. On Northern analysis, the MDA MB-453 line has a marked increase in 1.1 to 1.3 kb transcripts, which are truncated at the 3' end, in contrast to the normally predominant 4.2 kb transcript. The 1.1-1.3 kb cyclin D1 mRNA has a longer half-life than the 4.2 kb mRNA, indicating that the 3' truncation may contribute an increased stability and therefore an elevated steady-state level of the short mRNA. These alterations in the cyclin D1 gene and mRNA suggest that altered expression of cyclin D1 may be important in the malignant transformation of this cell line, and support the identification of cyclin D1 as a dominant oncogene at 11q13 in human breast cancer.