The etiology of human acute myeloid leukemias (AML) remains uncertain. In order to examine the possibility of retroviral etiology in AML, we determined retroviral antigens related to HTLV-I in leukemic cell samples from 32 AML cases and peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMNCs) from 20 healthy donors by D-IGSS with high sensitivity and specificity, reverse transcriptase (RT) activity by a simple and sensitive non-radioisotopic RT assay, and retroviral particles by electron microscopy. The HTLV-I-related antigens were detected in 50.0% (16/32) of fresh leukemic cell samples and 87.5% (28/32) of cultured leukemic cell samples. The HTLV-I-related antigen-positive cells in fresh and cultured leukemic samples were 10.2% and 52.8%, respectively. Both frequency and level of HTLV-I-related antigens in cultured samples were much higher than in fresh samples. In contrast, no HTLV-I-related antigens were found in normal hematopoietic cells from 20 healthy donors. Further study results show that RT activity was detected not only in HTLV-I-related antigen-positive samples, but was also well correlated with the level of HTLV-I-related antigens in these samples, and preferred Mn+2 to Mg+2 as a cation. Moreover, typical retroviral particles were localized in most cultured HTLV-I-related antigen-positive samples by immunoelectron microscope. These data suggest that human acute myeloid leukemias may be etiologically associated with new human retroviral infection.