The pathophysiologic significance of proteasomes in hematologic malignancies was examined by comparison of the proteasome levels in normal subjects and patients with benign liver diseases. The serum proteasome level measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay was found to be positively correlated with the tumor burden of the patients with hematologic malignancies such as acute leukemia, chronic myelogenous leukemia, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and myeloma. Immunohistochemical staining showed that proteasomes were strongly expressed in these tumor cells, especially in the nuclei. These data suggest that the elevated levels of serum proteasomes in these patients are derived from tumor cells, reflect the tumor burden, and so provide prognostic information. However, in patients with benign liver diseases, serum proteasome levels correlated with serum alanine aminotransferase activities, suggesting that in hematologic malignancies associated with liver injury some of the serum proteasomes may originate from hepatocytes. The marked production of proteasomes by malignant blood cells may be involved in transformation and proliferation of these cells.