Interleukin 2 (IL-2) receptor/Tac antigen is abnormally expressed on cells of patients with adult T cell leukemia (ATL) caused by infection with human T lymphotropic virus type I (HTLV-I). Twenty-five patients with ATL were examined to determine whether their leukemic cells continued to show IL-2-dependent proliferation. In 21 patients, the in vitro proliferation of HTLV-I-infected nonleukemic T cell clones was found to be dependent on IL-2. However, clonality analysis based on T cell receptor gene rearrangement profiles and the site of HTLV-I provirus integration revealed IL-2-dependent growth in leukemic cells in four patients with ATL. These results provide evidence for the IL-2- dependent proliferation of leukemic cells in some ATL patients.