Mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase appears to be one of the key regulators of cell proliferation and differentiation. Very little, however, has been revealed as to how MAP kinase is involved in leukemogenesis. We have studied the activation of the MAP kinase pathway in 100 human primary leukemia cells including 73 acute myelogenous leukemias (AMLs). Forty acute leukemia samples (40% of the total), including 37 AML samples (51% of AML), showed activation of MAP kinase as revealed by the mobility shift of the phosphorylated form of the protein and by in vitro kinase assay. This activation was correlated with MAP kinase kinase activity in these cells. In contrast, none of 14 chronic myelogenous leukemia samples showed the activation of MAP kinase. These results suggest that the MAP kinase pathway is constitutively activated in a subset of primary acute leukemias, and thus indicate the possible role of the constitutively activated MAP kinase in leukemogenesis.